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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Red Eye (2005)

Take the early flights. They always go by without a problem.

Lisa Reisart (Rachel McAdams) is a very busy girl who, when she’s not juggling time as the manager of very high-end hotel, is trying to keep up-to-speed with her dad and the rest of her family. However, she gets the sad news that her Grand-mom has just died and makes plans to flight out there to see her dad, as well as the funeral itself. Lisa gets on the plane without many problems, and it’s made even better by the fact that she’s met a guy (Cillian Murphy), who is quite charming in his own way. As they continue talking and the vodka gets consumed, Lisa begins to find out more and more about this mysterious man she just met at an airport and begins to realize that he met her for a reason; a reason that not only concerns her life, but a loved-one of hers as well.

More movies like Red Eye should be made nowadays. Why do I say that? It’s all pretty simple: It’s an 85-minute thriller, that is practically shot in real-time, features an understandable premise, keeps to it, and has us involved just about every step of the way. That’s why.

That said, it’s not a very sophisticated movie meant for heavy-thinkers, or for people who like to hold up each and every movie to some sort of cultural-significance of some sort; it’s the type of movie that you sit down, with or without others around you, get a bag of popcorn, watch, and just enjoy the hell out of. It’s not on the screen for a long time, so it’s almost impossible to get bored. And if you do, then I hate to say that you’re just not human.

That's how it starts: Two young, attractive people share the same attraction of being attracted to young, attractive people.

That’s how it starts: Two young, attractive people share the same attraction of being attracted to young, attractive people.

Then again though, I’ve been accused of the same thing too, so you’re not alone if that’s the case. What is the case here is that this is surprisingly directed from Wes Craven, which is “surprising” because it’s not necessarily a horror flick. Granted, Craven has dipped his pen into some “different” genre flicks before that weren’t just about Freddy Kruger or serial-rapists in the woods, but this one interested me because it had all of the conventions of what would set-up a very good horror flick, but decided to keep it at base with a thriller-approach.

For instance, the baddie here isn’t just a psycho who wants blood as the main course of his meal, or even craves human-flesh as a side-dish; instead, he’s more or less a terrorist that has a plan, is going to stick to it, and may even hold up his own end of the bargain. In that sense, Craven keeps the villain very humane, even if he is a totally evil son-of-a-bitch. Almost the type of evil son-of-a-bitch you could meet on the street, or, dare I say it, THE AIRPORT!!!

But what Craven does with this material is fun and great because he seems to really enjoy playing with the conventions of what we expect from a normal, run-of-the-mill thriller, as well as playing with us, the audience. Events in this movie that we expect to happen in our own mind-sets, sometimes don’t happen exactly the way we have as planned. And when they do, it actually feels deserved, rather than obvious or cliché. It almost feels as if Craven himself knows the ground-work that needs to be made for a good thriller, even if he doesn’t care to follow all of the steps that would make it differentiate from lesser-flicks of the same genre he’s toying with.

Basically, watching Craven do what he does best is a joyous time, no matter how you see it.

Is there anything really deeper or more thought-provoking to this material? Maybe. Much to my surprise, I found there to be a lot of post-9/11 paranoia here that made the flick seemed like it was trying to say more, but maybe it was just my imagination. It most likely was, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if Craven decided to throw some hints and clues in there as well. The guy surely is cheeky and even though this flick doesn’t play out in the type of tongue-in-cheek way most of his flicks surprisingly do, he keeps it just serious enough to be taken in as an actual thriller, with high-stakes involved, as well as just goofy and light enough to where you feel yourself thrilled by every move some character makes, whether it be a drastic or a regular one. Seriously, I was on board the whole time, and that’s really saying something for a movie as bare as this.

Swear to God, any of you a-holes run that fine specimen over, there's going to be some hell to pay.

Swear to God, any of you a-holes run that fine specimen over, there’s going to be some hell to pay.

Most of the credit does have to go to it’s two main stars here, especially considering that the whole movie is all about them, pretty much all of the time. Rachel McAdams plays pretty much two emotions the whole film (anger and fear), however, she handles both of them like a champ and gives us a character that’s smarter than she appears to be, especially when she’s thrown up in a corner at times, both literally and figuratively. She has a type of presence to her that makes her sweet and sassy, but also very knowing of her surroundings and watching her performance here makes me wish she made better decisions with her career as of late, rather than just trying to be “the next Julia Roberts” as some have touted her as being, I don’t quite see it, but hey, that’s just me. Take it or leave it.

As for Cillian Murphy, well, the dude’s been pretty much doing the same thing with his career ever since he first started out and it shows no problems whatsoever, mainly because he’s actually good at playing these slight odd, off-kilter types with an ounce of craziness in their systems. Murphy’s good here because he keeps you guessing, especially since you don’t quite have a full idea of what his plan’s going to fully be up until the final five minutes, and that’s why he’s so watchable. He’s a bad dude, that’s for sure, but he’s an interesting one and I think that’s more of a credit to Murphy’s acting skills, than the script itself, as minor as it is.

Consensus: The thriller-genre wasn’t shaken-up by Red Eye and it never will be, but it sure as hell is still worth the watch because it’s fun, quick, suspenseful, unpredictable in spots, well-acted by both McAdams and Murphy who command the screen as well as your attention, and shows one of the greats at the top of his “playful game”.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Too soon?

Ergh. Too soon, possibly?

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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Manhunter (1986)

No eating of fava beans or Chianti’s here.

A sicko family-killer nicknamed “The Toothfairy” (Tom Noonan) is running wild and loose, and it’s up to retired-cop, Graham (William Petersen), to find out who this guy is exactly is, where he’s at, cuff him, and lock the son of a bitch away for good. The problem is that this killer is a lot smarter and trickier to find than he’s usually used to, which is saying a lot for the guy who locked away Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) for good.

Okay, here’s the thing: Everybody knows the story of Hannibal Lecter because of the 1991 flick, but, believe it or not, this one came before and actually let the world know of the flesh-eating intellectual that is Dr. Lecter. This movie is rarely ever mentioned in today’s day and age of thrillers, especially ones with the character of Lecter involved, but it was one of the first and best examples of how you can put a serial-killer and cop-procedural together, and make them mesh so well.

And it’s all thanks to Michael Mann, who practically ushered in a wave of thousands-upon-thousands of shows that remind us that, yes, DNA is everywhere.

If you know Michael Mann, or have at least ever seen a Michael Mann flick, then you definitely the guy ain’t one bit of shy when it comes to showing how stylish he can be and how much he doesn’t care what you think. For some (such as myself), the style can get a bit over-bearing at times, but for a flick like this that seemed like it needed it to spice things up, then I was all aboard and not a tad bit pissed-off. Okay, that’s a lie. Some parts had me instantly pissed because of the corny, 80’s-synth, over-dramatic line-delivery, and foreshadowing of colors in the background or somewhere in each shot, but that just comes with the package when you put Michael Mann and the 80’s together. You gotta get used to it after awhile, which is what I did, much against my initial taste test.

There's a metaphor in here somewhere.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere. Just look for the color blue, if you can spot it.

Mann’s direction is one of the key aspects to making this movie so great because he continually builds up tension and suspense, yet, never makes it seem like the story/case is ever going to be fully solved. He puts the detectives in the running-spot for completion, but somehow, the killer always seems one step ahead no matter what. You also actually get to feel for these cops because they aren’t dirty a-holes that can’t help but screw things over for others because they’ve got nothing else better to do. Nope, instead, they are just regular, everyday people, who have a job to do, families back at home, and will stop at nothing to complete their tasks and make the world a whole lot nicer, safer place to be in. In today’s day and age where we get some sort of crooked cop in almost every crime movie we see, it’s quite refreshing to see what it was like when we loved our men with badges, and didn’t think of them as scum who love donuts and pulling you over after curfew. Doesn’t mean I still don’t have beef with some of them, but hey, at least my gratitude was with these guys for the longest time, in all hopes that they would get this killer.

However, it’s a pretty hard decision to make, especially when you have a villain that is this cool, this smart, this sinister, and this creepy.

That’s all thanks to Tom Noonan who is not only insanely freaky as the Red Dragon, but intimidating as well. The guy’s got that lanky-build to him where he’s a towering-figure, but skinny to the point of where he looks like a living, breathing, and walking straw. And his looks? Well, let’s just say that Tom Noonan is the sexiest person in the planet, but that’s not a bad thing at all, because it works in his favor by making us more scared by the dude. Not only does he seem like he knows what he’s doing, but also knows how to send a message that he’s not be screwed around with either. Need an example? Try that scene where finds the reporter and tells him a little bit about himself; a scene I’m not going to go on about anymore, because it’s tense, heavy, and shocking, all at once and perfect at declaring the kind of individual we’re working with here.

Also, a lot of the credit for such a bad-ass villain has to go back to Mann, because the guy never over-exposes our villain at all. It isn’t almost until the half-way mark that we get our first glimpse at the guy, and even that’s not saying much since it’s only five minutes of him being a creep-o and getting involved in weird shenanigans. It’s an effective five minutes though, and actually makes you feel like this guy is never going to be found, no matter how hard these cops may try. You actually start to give up hope at one point, depending on the type of person you are, and almost come to the reality that the Red Dragon is going to get away with it all, and evil laugh his way into more murderous-pleasures.

Does that count as wearing women's clothing?

Does that count as wearing women’s clothing?

However, when you stand in the way of William Petersen – not everything’s going to be so easy. Peterson is a nice fit as our main detective here, because the guy has a lot going for him to where we understand the problems that may occur in his personal life, as well as his work life when he has to do such a thing as get in the minds of the serial-killers he’s chasing after. But the guy never seems like he’s losing it to the point of where we question him, his skills, or his determination catch this killer and put all of the murders to rest. Petersen does over-act at times and it seems like just another case of bad writing, equals bad performance, but overall, the guy had me cheering for him in the end, even if it was a hard choice between him and Noonan. Both are great, even if they aren’t together on-screen for very long. Still, got to love when the film just builds up to the meeting between two, opposite forces, and absolutely delivers like this flick does.

The best of the rest is definitely Brian Cox as everybody’s favorite charmer, Hannibal Lecter. Cox isn’t playing the role we all know Anthony Hopkins for, but is giving us his own impression of him, with a few tinkers here and there. With just the short-amount of screen-time, we see how he operates, how he thinks, how smart he is, and how he’s not to be trusted no matter what he may say or do to you that could be considered nice or humane. Cox owns every scene he has and keeps this presence throughout the whole movie, even when he isn’t around. Having a double-threat like Noonan and Cox together was awesome, and just gave me more faith in the baddies, rather than the goodies.

Consensus: As with most films from the ultra-cool decade of the 80’s, Manhunter suffers from some cheese-tastic moments, but ultimately kicks some fine ass when it comes to building up an air of mystery, tension, suspense, and a feeling that you don’t know who’s going to come out of this alive, dead, or barely scratched.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"I want to eat you."

“I’m building up an appetite already.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Pride (2014)

Just be yourself, drag and all.

It’s 1984 and in the UK, a lot of people are angry. Most importantly though, the miners. They feel as if they are not being paid enough, or represented like they should be, so therefore, they decide to start up a strike and get their voices heard. Another group who demand the same are a bunch of prideful and accepting homosexuals who, much rather than being spit on, mocked and ignored, decide that if they’re going to get what they want, they have to go out and join another group who wants the same thing as they do. This is when the young leader of the group, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), coins the name for the campaign, “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” (LGSM). Though, of course, once the miners themselves find out who the group is, they deny them and want nothing to do with them. But thinking on their feet, the LGSM decide to travel out to another group of on-strike miners in a small village in Wales where, at first, they get all sorts of strange looks and stares. Eventually though, most of the town begins to warm up to the group and they all become a family of sorts. But like with most families, there’s always going to be problems and it just so happens that the LGSM may not be ready for all the ones standing in the way of getting what they want: To be heard and understood.

The general idea surrounding most movies that concern a certain group of people/persons, usually is, if you aren’t in the same demographic as the people being depicted on the screen, then you have nothing to relate to. “Because you aren’t black, means that you can’t relate or at least sympathize with a slave,” is something I casually hear in angry, shout-filled arguments about movies that I try to stay away from, and it ticks me off. Not only is it wrong, but I even have a solution to that idea, in a way to shut all the naysayers up for the rest of their days: I’m a human being, isn’t that enough?

McNulty's back! And now he's pretending to be Omar!

McNulty’s back! And now he’s pretending to be Omar!

And that’s exactly the kind of idea I had in my head while watching Pride – sure, I myself am not a gay man, but I know what it feels like to want to be heard and understood, even if it was just through a simple disagreement I’ve had with a family-member or co-worker. Maybe that’s wrong of me to compare the exchange of words I may have with someone in a day in my life, to the plight of all gay and lesbian people out there across the globe, but to me, it feels necessary. Not only did it have me sympathize with just about everyone here, but it also made me realize that this is how I’m supposed to feel.

Another general idea to go along with the one I presented up about two paragraphs ago, is that it’s hard for one to enjoy a movie that’s so limited in its audience-appeal; being a film-goer/lover, I know this to be especially false. As long as the material is presented to me in a way that I can enjoy, or at least find somewhat interesting, I don’t care if you have a story about stomping possums for an-hour-and-a-half; just give me something good, and I’ll roll with it. And that’s why a movie like Pride worked for me – I didn’t need to enjoy it only by being gay, but by appreciating a good, well put-together movie when I see one.

And in case you couldn’t tell by now, Pride is a good, well put-together movie. Which surprised me because, after seeing the trailer, I expected this to be nothing more than a manipulative, feel-goody tale about a group of outspoken people that stood up and got their voices heard that we usually see hit the cinema screens, but thankfully, that’s not how it was. Well, at least not totally, anyway. The problem with Pride is that it can get a bit sappy at times and rather than trying to be subtle with what it’s trying to get across about every man, woman, and being on this planet just sticking together and loving one another, regardless of gender, race, or sexual-preference, it hits you right over-the-head. Especially on more than a few occasions.

But, then again, there is something to be said for a movie that presents a lot of these moments in an over-the-top, preachy-way, yet, still somehow works and is able to put a smile on your face.

Take, for instance, a scene in which Dominic West’s character, Jonathan Blake, decides to break the ice at a benefit for the group by dancing all over the dance floor, flaunting it like nobody’s bizz, and letting pretty much everybody in the venue know, yep, he’s gay. This burst of dance obviously gets everybody else involved and all hyped-up, but it’s not just the gays and lesbians who join in on the fun – there’s actually two very straight, very masculine miner-boys who, throughout the whole movie prior to this, kept their distance from the homosexuals, but now, realizes that looking flamboyant and, overall, being a good dancer, attracts a whole bunch of horny, hot woman, who are just looking to grope the next best dancer they can find who isn’t named Usher (mind you, this was before Yeah!, but you catch my drift). So obviously, they decide to be actual friends with the group that’s supporting them, in hopes that they’ll get all the dancing-lessons they oh so desire.

Is this corny? You betcha! But is it also slightly lovely to see two different sides of society, come together, all in the name of dance? Oh, definitely and that’s how mostly all of Pride is. It’s corny, but sometimes, so corny that you can’t help but fall in love with its inherent corniness and even mistaken it for “having charm”. Which was fine to me, because the movie presents us with enough rich and tender dramatic moments that tell us how hard it truly was for each of these people to get disrespected because of who they were, to go along with the happy-go-lucky ones where everybody’s smiling, drinking, sexxing, and just overall, having a grand time.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, and they’re dancing, too, but I think I’ve made that clear enough by now.

And though the movie can get deep a couple of times, especially when it talks about the oncoming scare of HIV and how nobody’s really doing anything to stop it from wiping out just about everybody it infects, it still doesn’t want to take us away from the fact that this is a sweet, simple story, that hardly ever rings a false note. Sure, there’s a couple of villainous-homophobes that were literally a mustache-twirl away from going full Bond, but even they seemed like they had reasons for being so against same-sex relationships, as misguided as they may have been. Same even goes for the townspeople who eventually grow to like the gays and lesbians; they have clear, understandable intentions for wanting to help their cause, yet, still not totally be thrown for a loop in terms of what they want in life. All they really want to do is lend a helping hand to people who seem like they need it the most, which, to me, isn’t just the real beauty and crowd-cheering praise I can give this movie, but to humanity as a whole.

Okay, now I’m getting sappy.

Consensus: By not trying to be anything it’s not, Pride feels like the sort of feel-good, pick-me-upper that deserves to be seen by anybody who wants to laugh, tear-up a bit, and at the end of the day, feel good about living in the world that we do, where humans inherently feel the need to do the right thing.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Not 80's enough.

Not 80’s enough. Needs more colored mo-hawks.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Fury (2014)

I guess something that weighs over 30 tons isn’t all that safe after all.

It’s April 1945 in Nazi Germany, towards the end of WWII and the Allies seem to be kicking all sorts of ass and taking names. So much so, that Adolf Hitler himself has been ordering just about every man, women, and/or child, to get out there on the front lines and fight the good fight. And during all of this, therein lies a tank crew who maintain and work in a big mofo they call “Fury”. The tank sergeant is a man that goes by the name of Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and just recently, finds himself all torn up over the fact that his second-in-command has just been blown away in the middle of combat. He still has the rest of his crew intact, but this proves to be such a hard hit, that he doesn’t know necessarily how to move on. Well, except all that he and his crew have to do is fight, fight, and fight some more. This time though, they’ll be along for the ride with a newbie by the name of Cobb (Logan Lerman) who nobody really takes a liking to and with good reason: He’s never been on the battlefield before and doesn’t know if he can handle killing other people that haven’t done anything specifically to him. Throughout the next week or so, that may change and Wardaddy will be more than happy to show him why.

There’s something of a plot to be found here in Fury, but honestly, what it all comes down to is “Brad Pitt and a bunch of his fellas go around Germany, shooting and killing people.” While that sounds somewhat repetitive and ultimately, boring, there’s a feeling here that writer/director David Ayer is using it for a whole other reason in particular.

For instance, it’s never made clear to us what exactly the objective here of this story is; usually for a war movie, we understand who is searching for what, why, how they’re going to go about it, and what is going to be accomplished at the end of the day. However, here, the only objective of the plot-line is to fight the war, continue killing the enemy, and try to do so without getting you, or your fellow soldier killed in the process.

Looking that good, can sometimes be so tiring.

Looking that good, can sometimes be so tiring.

In all honesty, that’s more of how the war probably is. there’s no need to save any Private Ryan’s, or even any plan to capture top-level Mogadishu-officials. Here, it’s all about trying to stay alive and killing as many Germans as they possibly can, which is probably just how being in a bloody war is like – hardly ever stopping and always fighting. This is a bold move on Ayer’s part to take, but it’s one that I think needed to be taking, because so rarely is it that we get a war movie that shows us just how screwed up and unforgiving the battlefield truly is, without trying to force a message down our throats. Here, you could say that the moral of the story is, “the war is terrible, and people die.” That’s all Ayer seems to be saying here and I think that’s all that needed to be said.

But of course Ayer takes it a bit of another step forward and actually get to discussing the certain soldiers in the war, by showing us just the type of disturbing affect the war has on them, regardless of how messed-up in the head the individual may be. This is where I think Ayer’s writing is at its best, because rather than glamorizing these soldiers and having them come off as the Nation’s biggest heroes, Ayer has them portrayed as a bunch of guys who had nothing else better to give to society back in the States, other than just sitting around and taking up space. On the battlefield, they have a purpose, they have a cause, and most of all, they have a reason to live. Though we never actually hear a character state this throughout the film, they don’t really have to for us to get the point; in fact, them just stating every so often that being in the war was, “the best job they ever had”, gives us the impression that this is all they have to live for and they’re more than proud to die if they have to. They may be scared, but they’ll at least feel proud to perish because it’s for a reason, even if that reason is for their own well-being.

And though I may make this movie come off as a bit of a melodrama, I can assure you that it’s not; there are moments of pure drama where characters break down, shout their hearts out, and let us know how they feel. However, at the end of the day, it’s a war movie, and because of this, we get plenty of action-sequences with tanks going toe-to-toe with another, people getting shot, stabbed in the face, lit on fire, and most of all, dying. But while these scenes are effective in the most gruesome ways possible, there’s still a feeling that the movie doesn’t know what it wants to say about them – are we supposed to feel bad that countless soldiers on both sides are getting killed? Or are we just supposed to care that way for the American side?

The best example to highlight this problem the movie seems to have with itself is when Cobb, the new blood of this tank group, is ordered by Wardaddy to shoot a German prisoner. Though the German prisoner has surrendered (thus, making it illegal to kill him), Cobb is physically and emotionally manipulated into doing it, even though it is a horrifying act he does not want to partake in. We know it’s not right, he knows it’s not right, but every other character around him (as well as the movie), doesn’t and that’s one of the sole problems with this movie. It doesn’t have enough to say to be an anti-war movie, yet, it doesn’t have enough self-control to not glamorize the violent, sometimes inhumane, acts that occur during the war itself.

Basically, you could write it all down to Ayer not being the best director out there. Sure, as a writer, he’s pretty fine and has shown that he has a knack for writing gritty, raw, and bare human beings who are conscience enough to be considered “realistic”, but as a director, his movies don’t always translate so well. End of Watch was a fine piece that showed he was able to turn the found-footage genre on its head a bit, but that’s about all the praise Ayer gets as a director (his other film released earlier this year, Sabotage, is currently running the gauntlet for being one of my least favorite of the year). That said, while this is probably Ayer’s most accomplished film as director, there’s still signs that what comes out of the pen, doesn’t always translate so well onto the screen, even if the one writing, also happens to be the same individual filming.

Thankfully though, for Ayer at least, he can fall back on the amazing ensemble he has here to ensure that his material will be more than just what’s presented on the surface, and can at least be dissected and looked at a bit more. Brad Pitt, playing a WWII soldier that isn’t collecting Nazi scalps, does a lot as Wardaddy, although it seems like he’s just being his usual-self: Cool, smart, collective, and most of all, masculine as hell. However, there’s more to this character and we get the idea that even though he’s all about defending his country to the very end and do whatever he has to do to protect those around him, at any costs, he still fears the idea of dying, or even worse, a close-one of his meeting the same fate. He’s an emotionally-battered man that disguises it all with orders, commands, and death, but if you look closely, you can see exactly what kind of person he is, and it’s not all that different from you or I.

That's the look of someone who has maybe gone too method.

That’s the look of someone who has maybe gone “too method”.

Except that he looks like this, a sad reality I live with everyday I look in the mirror.

But as good as Pitt is in the lead role, I really have to give a lot of kudos to Logan Lerman, a young talent who is really rising through the ranks and showing us he has what it takes to hang with the big boys. Though Lerman’s character can be classified as “scared, wimp-ish rookie”, Lerman presents us with shades to this character that makes it easy to see why someone as sheepish and kind as he is, would actually totally change into a ruthless, unforgiving killer. It’s actually pretty horrifying if you think about it, and that is why Lerman’s performance is so good: He’s a normal person like you or me, but now it’s time for him to grow up, face the terrible realities of the war, and start shooting that rifle of his.

Though, as good as Lerman and Pitt are, there is a glaring difference between them two, and the attention they get from Ayer, as opposed to the characters played by Michael Peña, Shia LaBeouf and Jon Bernthal, who all seem like types that want to be more than just that, but never get a chance to cause the writing prohibits them from doing so. However, because these three are all good performers, we get a deeper, more effective camaraderie between the whole group that seems to go further than just “war buddies”; they could actually be something of brothers, that just so happen to be connected by the reality of war.

One instance of this is a scene that, for some reason or another, takes place all in real-time and runs for about twenty-five minutes. It starts with Wardaddy and Cobb going into a random German woman’s home, having dinner and sex, but turns into something darker and tense once the rest of the group shows up. This is a great scene because it not only shows the restraint in Ayer’s sometimes confused direction, but actually allows all of these guys to just act with one another, in one scene, one location, and uninterrupted. In this scene, we get to understand who all of these fellas are, why they stick up for one another when they have to, and why they all love each other, in the most non-sexual way possible. It’s probably the most memorable scene of the movie, which is probably a testament to the cast, especially when you consider how much blood, guts, bullets and steel are flying around.

Consensus: Maybe not the deepest war movie ever made, Fury doesn’t know where it stands on certain ideas, but is still well-acted by its highly-capable cast and displays a growing talent in David Ayer as a director, even if there is some room for improvement to be made.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

#2MasculineForYou

#2MasculineForYou

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Kill the Messenger (2014)

What’s a newspaper?

Middle-aged journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) isn’t necessarily the type of writer who searches for a big story, but if it ever comes his way, he’ll more than likely take the opportunity to jump on it right away. That’s why when Webb stumbles upon a lead that may take him all the way to uncovering that the CIA channeled drugs through the U.S., he gets on top of it right away, interviewing possible sources, even if that includes him taking trips out to to the villages of Nicaragua and putting his life on the line. However, Webb is a true journalist and will do anything to make his story the best possible one out there and for all of the world to see, which is exactly what happens. It gets his name known, story re-published in larger, much more respected news outlets, face on TV, and even an award for “Year’s Best Journalist”. Everything looks wonderful for Webb’s life and career, that is, until the government actually gets involved and starts putting pressure on him, as well as his news publication to stop pursuing the story any further, or else. This leaves Webb at a stand-still: Continue following the story his career was made for and lose everything he has, or, listen to what the government demands so that he can live a normal, comfortable life, like everything was before all this press? Decisions, decisions.

There’s certain movies that, to me, may speak volumes, while to others, may not at all. I understand this because while most critics out there like to say that they “have no bias” when it comes to reviewing a certain movie, from a certain creator, on a certain subject, the fact is, we are all biased. Which isn’t a problem, it’s just a fact of life that every human being has deep down inside themselves, regardless of if they want to admit or not.

A notorious drug kingpin who plays golf? Hmm...

A notorious drug kingpin who plays golf? Hmm…

The reason why I say this, is because a movie like Kill the Messenger is made exactly for me: A movie about an respectable journalist, taking place in a time when journalists truly did matter to the mainstream media, and doing what most journalists do, day in and day out. I too, am an aspiring journalist and while I do realize that the world is starting to need fewer and fewer of them, it’s still a profession I love and will continue to pursue until the day I die, regardless of if I have a job in the field or not. So yeah, as you could probably tell by my statement, that this is the movie for me.

That said, I do realize that not every movie out there that works for me, won’t work for others and while I do want to jump into this movie head-on and talk about Webb, his practice, and how he, the real-life figure, makes me happy to be an aspiring journalist, I have to judge the movie on its merits. Merits which, mind you, may be a bit fuzzy to me and my inner-bias.

Sorry, people. I’m only human, after all.

But as I was saying, Kill the Messenger is a pretty typical biopic; while it definitely tries to shy away from being by-the-notes, it hardly ever flies away from this convention and just tells its story like how it was presented to us. Which isn’t a bad thing, because if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, and such is the case here. Webb’s story, as is, is an interesting one that doesn’t need to go through any interesting, yet shocking, twists to liven things up – all it needs to do is be told to us as it was, with every bit of information known about who he was and the controversy that surrounded a good portion of his life. Sort of like an article as is, but I won’t go on any further about that!

Anyway, director Michael Cuesta, while not necessarily the most flashy director in the world, doesn’t need to be so because the strength of the movie is in the real-life story itself. Of course with most of these biopics, there’s always the wonder of how much we are seeing presented on screen is actually how it happened, or how much is just made for the sake of making the movie entertaining, but for the most part, I couldn’t find any punches pulled by Cuesta. Even if there were any, they were so thinly-done, that it was hard for me to notice and hardly ever took me away from the real strength of this movie, which was the character of Gary Webb himself. But most of all, the actor portraying him: Jeremy Renner.

By now, within in the past five years of seeing the Hurt Locker, I think the world has come to realize that Jeremy Renner is a wonderful actor that’s more than capable of handling a movie on his own (for some of us, it may have been earlier, but you know, I’m talking about the mainstream audience here, you hipsters). So for him to be involved with a biopic such as this, it made me interested in seeing just how far he could go into making us see him as somebody, and not just him playing somebody. And honestly, it’s impressive how well-suited for this role Renner is; though we don’t know all that much about Webb, the real-life person, what we see from how Renner plays him, we get the idea that he was a sweet and lovable, yet also troubled, family man. Because Renner has such a charming screen-presence, there’s an idea that he gets along with practically anybody he’s around and doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to telling it like he sees it. Which is, once again, all thanks to Renner’s wonderful performance that may not get a lot of press, but definitely should, because it’s probably his strongest since the previously-mentioned Locker.

The guy who played Omar Little, as a drug-dealer? Really?

The guy who played Omar Little, as a drug-dealer? Didn’t see that coming!

But what Renner, as well as the movie, tells us about Webb is that he was a hard-worker, who stuck to his journalistic guns, even when it seemed like, for the well-being of everyone around him, he shouldn’t have. However, that’s what brings us to the main dilemma that the movie discusses: How far should a journalist go to pursue a story? Should they go in so deep that they practically abandon those who love and count on him/her for support? Or, should they create their story and jump off of it right before the story itself gets all sort of unwanted press?  This, to some, may seem like an obvious point made by many other movies concerning the world of journalism, but to me, a fellow journalist, is a problem I struggle with everyday. Not because I myself am throwing myself right into these highly controversial stories that could put my life on the line, but more because that could definitely happen some day. A person could easily read a story of mine that they don’t like and could decide to take matters into their own hands, which, I know, sounds barbaric, but crazier things have happened, people.

But enough about me, because while I found a way to connect to this movie with my own journalist-mind intact, I think the real wonder of this movie that makes it easy for almost anybody to appreciate is that it gives a glimpse into the life of a man not many people discuss or even know about much anymore. Webb, while seeming like a slightly troubled-fella, really did love his job, but most of all, loved discovering and unraveling the truth about those in power and all of the wrong-doings they were committed. Which is why it’s sad to see not just his family begin to bail on him once this story gets too hot, but also his publication that doesn’t want to be involved with a journalist who may, or may not be, good for their image.

It says something about journalism as a whole, but also says something about how this man, Gary Webb, truly did want people to know that he was telling the truth just about every step of the way. But that it only takes a few of those in power, to be angry, and make sure that whatever skeletons they have in their closet, stays put. It sucks, but it’s a reality and it was inspiring to see someone like Webb stand up for himself, even when it was the riskiest choice he could make.

Even if I was the only one who felt it.

Consensus: Kill the Messenger isn’t just a testament to the legend of Gary Webb and his journalistic pursuit to discovering the truth, but also to journalism as a whole, and presents plenty of strong questions, with hardly any answers. The way it’s supposed to be told.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Once he starts throwing pieces of the puzzle on the wall, we all know its downhill from there.

Once he starts throwing pieces of the puzzle on the wall, we all know its downhill from there.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Night Moves (2014)

Hug a tree next time, kid.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Deena (Dakota Fanning) are two environmentalists who want to make something of a difference. So, they decide, as one does when an environmentalist has radical beliefs, to blow up a dam. However, they know very little about actually lighting explosives big enough to blow up an actual, life-sized dam, which is why they decide to hit up ex-Marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard); somebody who has been long-time friends with Josh and may have his eye on Deena. Anyway, after much planning, speculation, and talking, the three decide to go through with the plan of blowing up the dam and on the way, they run into problems here and there. But since this is what they believe in the most, they’re going to stick to their initial plans, no matter how many odds are stacked-up against them. That is, until they realize that they may be doing the wrong thing to begin with.

In all honesty, that plot-synopsis is a bit of a cheat. Though I definitely want to inform you all of what this movie’s actually about, it’s hard for me to really actually go into all of it because most of what happens in this movie (and basically, all you need to know) occurs in the first half-hour. And mind you, this is a near two-hour film, so for all of the action and whatnot to happen in the first act, isn’t just surprising, it’s downright unbelievable.

But that is exactly what we have here with Night Moves and honestly, I wouldn’t expect much different from writer/director Kelly Reichardt, somebody who, if you don’t already know of by now, doesn’t totally like to play by the rules/conventions of what the rest of the movie world sets out for others to follow suit.

"So...uhm...you in the mood for breakfast or anything?"

“So…uhm…you in the mood for breakfast or anything?”

However, it’s not just about how Reichardt places what is, essentially, the climax at the beginning of the film that makes it so unique to watch, it’s more of how she allows her characters to speak like natural human-beings. Which any person who has ever tried their hand or two at writing a script will tell you: Writing how typical people actually talk, is nearly impossible. Actually, that’s a lie, because there are a few writers out there who are able to do so (early Kevin Smith films come to my delinquent mind), but it’s a difficult task and more often than not, the characters can come off as if they’re trying so hard to be real and raw like actual humans, that it’s phony.

But for someone like Kelly Reichardt, it seems and feels so effortless. Not only does she write her characters in a slightly vague way that we have to search beneath each and everything that they say, to just get an understanding of who they are as people, but she also allows them to tell us something about themselves in the way they carry on their bits of silence. Sure, some people may call this a form of “laziness”, or just a director relying on a trick that’s been used for years and years to show us the inner-feelings of character, but when I look at it, especially in the way that Reichardt uses silence, I feel as if this is how real life would play out.

So very often do we get movies where characters just sit down, in silence, and hardly utter a peep. And hell, even if they do utter a peep or two, they don’t constantly sound like the wittiest human beings god has ever put on this Earth. Sometimes, they’re just like us and when they don’t have anything smart to say, they don’t say anything – and even if they do, they know when to shut up right away. This how I like to view each and everyone of Reichardt’s movies: Typical interactions between human beings that you yourself could actually stumble upon in the vast landscape out there that is Earth.

Sure, the people she may present in her films are a bit more attractive than say your or I, but somehow, through the way in which Reichardt’s script is written, they seem almost too real.

Take for instance the character of Josh, played so wonderfully sternly by Jesse Eisenberg. Though we don’t know too much about Josh early on (then again, we don’t much about anyone here), Eisenberg brings out certain layers to this character that’s more than brooding and seeming as if he’s about to lose his freakin’ mind. See, with this character of Josh, we get the idea that this is just another guy, who cares so much for a cause, that he’s willing to go as far, as wide, and as deep as he can, to make that cause a possibility, rather than just something he pisses and moans about at rugged get-togethers. There’s a feeling in this movie that we’re not supposed to really like Josh because of the way in how he goes about making sure his cause actually is heard, but then again, we’re never told to not like him either.

In a way, you can get that feeling that Reichardt herself doesn’t really have the faintest clue of what to think of Josh, other than that he’s just another young guy who, like every other young person out there in the world, believes in something that they hold so near and dear to their heart, that they lose sight of who they actually are. Not just as spokes-persons, but as human beings. That, to me at least, is downright terrifying. Not because of the way it’s presented in this film, but because of how true this really is about certain people out there in this world.

Don't do it, Jessie! You've still got Lex Luthor to portray!

Don’t do it, Jessie! You’ve still got Lex Luthor to portray!

Same can be said for the characters that both Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard play; both aren’t made clear to us early on as to who they are, or why they are, the way they are, but through time and attention, we understand that their goals, though may seem like the same on the surface, aren’t really exactly what either one would want when things really get down to it. Especially for Fanning’s character who, at first, seems like the typical young, wise and brash know-it-all that wants you to show everyone around her how smart she is about the environment and stuff, man, but at the end of the day, is just another little girl who has no clue about how ugly the world can get. I’d explore that same option with Sarsgaard’s character but, considering it’s a character played by Peter Sarsgaard, you could probably already bet that he’s a bit of a sick and twisted dude as is. Which isn’t to say that either performances are bad (Fanning is actually quite good in a role that shows she is in fact GROWING UP IN FRONT OF OUR OWN VERY EYES), but the characters they play make you think and wonder just about who they truly are, when nobody else is around them, staring.

But honestly, now I’m just getting further and further away from the point and avoiding the fact that this movie is fantastic, but not in a very pick-me-up kind of way. Once again, without saying too much, the movie definitely gets quite dark and terrifying at points, but it’s never used in a way to jolt us like so many manipulative thrillers out there do. Instead, Reichardt uses these quietly tense moments to play out what would happen in real life, without all of the glitz, the glamour and the spotlight. And even though I know so many writers and directors out there try to achieve this, Kelly Reichardt really seems to nail that mood.

Which is, yes, pretty weird, especially if you know Reichardt’s filmography. She’s mostly known for these small, naturalistic, and character-driven dramas that can’t necessarily be classified as “thrillers”, but somehow still are, because the tension and the suspense is within the characters interactions between one another. But more so the case here, especially in a scene where one character has to buy fertilizer and I kid you not, had my palms sweating so hard, I needed a towel just to dry them off. And that to me is what really makes this film one of Reichardt’s better pieces: Not only is she showing growth as a writer/director, but she’s also showing the audience that it doesn’t matter how many plot twists you throw around, if you have well-written characters and plot-archs, then you don’t need much else to really excite your audience.

A special note to all you up-and-coming writers out there looking to make a break in the biz, ya’ll.

Consensus: With a naturalistic tone and feel, Night Moves feels like real life, except this time, a whole lot darker and with more questions than answers. Actually, kind of like real life.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"What? We're just eating a PB&J. THAT'S ALL!!"

“What? We’re just eating a PB&J. THAT’S ALL!!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Starred Up (2014)

When in jail, make sure to start as many fights, with as many inmates as possible. Heard that always works right away.

Young, feisty and chock full of piss-and-vinegar Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) heads to the slammer with a bang: Not only does he trash his cell, but even comes close to killing a security-guard. He does this not to just show dominance and that he isn’t afraid of anyone stationed in the various cells around him, but to remind people that he’s not a lad to be messed with. However, due to his constant angry-bursts, he has to cut a deal with the warden to keep himself closer to his father (Ben Mendelsohn) who also is, believe it or not, incarcerated at the same prison and taking on something of a new life, in the vaguest sense I can explain it as. The deal: Frequently go to and behave at a few meetings with the prison counselor (Rupert Friend), while also maintaining to stay out of trouble outside of the sessions as well. Though he’s clearly not going to back down from a fight without throwing a few elbows or two, Eric finds himself actually adjusting to new life in prison quite well, but sometimes, what happens in prison, stays in prison and with the enemies that he’s already made, he may have to look twice behind his back to stay alive and well.

Prison-dramas are usually effective, if only because they’re quite simple to make: One setting, a few characters, and only a few more situations/dilemmas that a certain amount of prison-dramas can actually explore. Though that may make the prison-drama genre as a whole, seem somewhat boring and unoriginal, there still seems to be enough life left in them to where something as small as Starred Up can make a noise, as measly as that may be.

"Stop being such a silly twat!"

“Stop being such a silly twat!”

See, with this movie here, rather than taking itself out of the prison itself and focusing on these characters, how they got to be in the slammer in the first place, and why, underneath it all, they’re tragic characters, the movie just stays pit. We hardly ever leave the prison itself, nor do we ever really get to hear much of a back-story as to why certain characters are where they are in the first place; we just assume that the outside world is there, moving on naturally, and that anybody in this prison, who also happens to be behind bars, did something bad to get them there in the first place.

Sounds simple, right? Well, that’s because it is and yet, somehow, director David Mackenzie is able to dig a bit deeper and make this movie more than just a standard prison-drama; it’s a movie about life, love, the pursuit of happiness and how we all, no matter how troubled our lives may be, want to just make us, as well as the ones we love, happy. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too sappy for a movie which, in the first five minutes, already features the use of the words “cunt” and “fuck” more times than I’ve heard my British grand-mother use (I don’t have one, but you get the drift), but there’s something to be said for a movie that shows itself as being so hard-edged, violent and mean, yet on the inside, beneath the surface and all, is actually quite heartfelt and sweet.

Okay, now I know I’m really losing you, as well as myself, but bear with me here! Please! Because even though this movie definitely battles with some issues and themes that may make the inner-man that all of us have, tighten-up a bit and demand muscle milk, there’s still plenty that most of the usual, testosterone-fueled viewers can enjoy when they decide to take time out of their day and watch a prison drama. Meaning, yes, there’s a lot of blood-shed, knives, fighting, tossing, kicking, hitting, swearing, and all that good stuff we can expect to see from just watching a single episode of Oz.

And it’s all pretty effective; though some of it is gratuitous, that’s sort of the point. Prison is a harsh place and if you can hang around in it, then you’re better off dead (and surely, you will be soon). But like I’ve said before, the movie gets down to the nitty gritty of who these inmates truly are and why most of them stick together, especially when they sure as hell shouldn’t. Most of these inmates are genuinely angry, distasteful people that deserved to be exactly where they are, but some of them, are just troubled and confused individuals that may have made a stupid decision in their life and paying for it as peacefully as they can.

That’s why Eric Love is such an intriguing protagonist to have – he’s a small, rather skinny lad, yet, has so much anger bent deep down inside of him, that when he has time to actually allow for it to vent out onto those around him, we’re absolutely terrified and see why he got himself into this place in the first place. But then, something strange happens, as the movie goes on, we realize that Love is actually the kind of character we expected him to be: Tiny, scared, self-conscious and would much rather use his fists to end an argument, rather than actual words of reasonable wisdom. And though we don’t get too much pretense as to who this guy really is underneath all of the body-tattoos, we know enough by how he reacts to those around him in prison and the various situations he is thrown into.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don't quite together so well.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don’t quite together so well.

Which is to say, that I think it goes without saying, that Jack O’Connell is downright breathtaking in this role here as Eric Love. From the very few seconds we meet him, to where we end, O’Connell seems to be on another planet of “Crazy”. Throughout the flick, O’Connell gets scream, holler, beat his chest, take off his shirt, run, throw fists, choke people out and do all sorts of other bad things, yet, he’s constantly compelling to watch the whole time. We get the feeling that there’s still a heartbroken and upset little boy trapped down inside of him, and rather than write him off as a “dick”, we see him as a character that can, yes, be nurtured and maimed, given the right supervision and guidance in his life.

Which is why it was also a great idea on behalf of the casting-department to go through with giving the role of Love’s daddy to none other than Ben Mendelsohn himself. If you’ve ever seen Mendelsohn in anything before, you’ll know that a role in which he plays a ruthless, tough-love prison-inmate is pretty much perfect, but Mendelsohn even takes that a bit further. See, rather than making his character a tough-as-nails guy in prison trying to teach his son how to survive in the hell-hole that is prison, Mendelsohn gives off a certain level of vulnerability and sweetness that makes you see this man, not just as a father-figure, but a man who is genuinely upset that he never got to be with his son during his formative years. Though he has a hard time of showing it, Mendelsohn’s character is really one who cares and just wants what’s best for his son, even if that means having to take down a couple of inmates in the process.

And that’s why, my friends, prison is not a place you never, ever want to be in. But the film doesn’t end on that corny note; instead, it focuses on the fact that, it doesn’t matter where we are in this world or what sort of situations we are thrown into, it’s never too late to be involved with the ones you love and their lives. Though the film doesn’t openly preach this out to the choir, it’s obvious that it wants to be about what it means to be a human being, and to love, feel, and emote, even when the environment surrounding you tells you to do the exact obvious.

Okay, now that’s very sappy, but so what!??! Prison is harsh, man! We all need a hug every so often!

Consensus: Simple, yet as incredibly detailed as possible, Starred Up may be another harsh, unflinching portrayal of life in prison, but it also doesn’t shy away from getting to the heart of the place, as well the various people who just so happen to be stuck there.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually look while waiting for the pregnancy test results to get back to me.

How I usually look while waiting to hear of the pregnancy’s test results.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Stay away from graveyards, people. They’re creepy enough as is.

Former NYC cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) used to be a total alcoholic. He’d wake up, go to his local bar, have a coffee, and then down two shots of liquor. However, one fateful day, that all changes and eight years later, he’s regularly attending AA meetings, living alone, eating at diners, and also turning in some work as a non-official private eye. One night he gets an offer and decides to seek it out: Find a group of serial killers that are kidnapping rich drug-dealer’s wives/loved-ones, ransoming money off of them, and yet, still taking the liberty of hacking these women up to little pieces. To them, it’s all fun and games, so when an actual drug-dealer (Dan Stevens) calls on Scudder to do this job for him, he doesn’t back away from it. After all, getting rid of a few serial killers in this world is a job well done, no matter how you do it. But Scudder eventually realizes that this job is going to be a bit more difficult and nerve-wracking than he would have liked, which is why he, whether he likes it or not, gets some assistance from a local homeless kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

And yet again, here we are, people, another “Liam Neeson kicks ass” kind of movie where he, yes, is a certain man, with a certain level of skills, takes it upon himself to go about utilizing those skills, shows that he’s a nice guy underneath the sometimes questionable-decisions he makes and, well, of course, tells the villains to, for lack of a better term, “fuck off”. Yes, these are the kinds of movies we can all expect from Liam Neeson right about now and while some can say that they’re bored by this and want him to go back to making Oscar-caliber films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese, the fact is, nope, Liam ain’t too bothered with any of them.

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin' nuts?!?!

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin’ nuts?!?!

He is, as they say in the biz, striking while the iron is hot and rather than trying something daring to make sure his “arthouse”-ish crowd is pleased with him, Liam is just going to stay and continue to make these typical, run-of-the-mill action-thrillers where he, yes, kicks plenty of ass.

However, that’s not to say any of them are bad and because most of them aren’t, I’m quite happy for Neeson. He’s the type of actor who, with his tall-frame and soft, yet still intimidating Scottish-accent, deserves many movies to be made where he’s, typically, the center of attention. Which is why he seems to be a perfect choice for Matthew Scudder; the type of troubled, somewhat crooked-cop that isn’t the nicest, nor the most moral of guys, but wants to see that he gets the job done, in the most efficient way possible. Meaning, that he wants to ensure no innocent people are killed while he is completing his various shady tasks.

But Scudder isn’t just a well-written character in the way that he’s well-rounded, he’s funny and shows a charming side to his sometimes grim personality that we know Neeson is capable of high-lighting every so often. To say that Neeson is great here, would almost be too obvious for me to even state, but here I am, stating that Neeson is great here and practically carries the movie on his own two, long, lanky shoulders.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t all that bad, because while Neeson helps it get through some rough patches (whenever the serial-killers pop-up, they’re pretty conventional and spend most of their scenes just being strange, in almost too-serious way to be not kidding), it’s writer/director Scott Frank who really makes this movie work. Something about this flick’s tone, the way it’s so hush-hush most of the time and how it doesn’t seem to glorify it’s over-the-top, grisly violence, yet still shows it in a derogatory light that he makes it seem like more than just “movie violence”, is what really made me think that Frank should make more movies. The dude’s already written my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie (Out of Sight) and actually had a pretty stellar directorial-debut of his own not too long ago (the Lookout), so why wait any longer, Scott? Let’s keep this a train a-goin’, man!

Anyway, like I was saying, Frank’s direction here is really genius and it brings a smile to my face knowing that there are certain film makers out there who still care about giving us genuinely tense, sometimes unpredictable thrillers. Thrillers that, mind you, don’t necessarily rely on how many times a gun is shot, or even how many bones are broken in a particular brawl – much rather, thrillers that take time to not only build the story it is trying to tell, but also give us some context in how we’re supposed to think of these characters as. Not all of these characters are great people here (most of them, drug dealers), but the movie doesn’t simply judge them on who they are, much more than on what it is that they do.

"I'm used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you'll do."

“I’m used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you’ll do.”

For instance, take the character of TJ who, in a lesser-movie, would have been the stereotypical smart-aleck-y, rather adorable kid that Liam Neeson’s character not only stumbles upon by pure chance, but even takes under his wing and make his new sidekick. Add on the fact that TJ is in fact black, and you’ve got yourself a walking, talking, breathing cliché just waiting to ruin your goddamn movie, not to mention your time! But somehow, TJ, nor anything surrounding him, seems to be written that way; he’s a simple orphan kid that is a bit punk-ish, but is still curious enough about how this world Scudder surrounds himself with, not just works, but how he can be apart of it without getting him, or anybody else killed. Not to mention the fact that this young guy, Brian “Astro Bradley, is very good in the role, making you feel sorry that he’s sort of left all by his lonesome, but also happy that he may, or may not, have a future hangin’ around this tall, New Yorker, with an Irish-accent.

I know I’m getting into this a bit more than I maybe should, but there was just a feeling I got with this movie that I haven’t gotten with a thriller in quite some time. Okay, that’s actually a lie, because a little bit of time ago, when I saw the Drop, I felt sort of the same way: A crime-thriller that takes its time to build momentum, as well as character-development. While those movies seem sort of neck-and-neck in my eyes, they’re both clear-as-day examples of what can happen when you take a simple story revolving around thugs, doing thuggish-like things, and make it as detailed as humanly possible, without ever overly-boring the audience, nor giving them enough to where they can expect everything to happen as clearly as they may have predicted it as being straight from seeing the advertisements for it.

So, once again I say this: Scott Frank, continue to make movies. You’ll make me a very happy man and most of all, a very happy movie-goer.

Consensus: With extra-attention paid to the look, feel, and characters that inhabit its slightly unnerving story, A Walk Among the Tombstones is, yet again, another winner for Liam Neeson and his seemingly unfazed streak right now, except a lot smarter and wiser this time around.

8 / 10 = Matinee!! 

"Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see."

“Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Drop (2014)

Never trust a silent bartender. Don’t even bother tipping them, either.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a bit of a lone wolf in that, he mostly keeps to himself, goes to work at the bar his cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini), run, and goes to Church every Sunday. Also, occasionally he drops some money to fellow gangsters who own his bar. So yeah, life is good for Bob, that is, until he discovers a beaten-up and bruised puppy in a trashcan. Which yeah, doesn’t seem all that bad considering that he takes it in as his own and even names it, but he starts to develop a relationship with the woman who found it with him (Noomi Rapace), which brings around her ex-boyfriend, the near-psychotic Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). Also, to make matters worse, he and Marv’s place ends up getting robbed, which means that they have to find a way to pay the owners back, or else they’ll be sleeping with the fishes. And if things couldn’t get even worse for these two fellas, a local detective (John Ortiz) starts sticking his nose in certain places that comes a little too close to comfort for both of them.

What we have here is another one of those simple crime-thriller dramas that, on paper, don’t really seem like much: Quiet dude finds dog, quiet takes dog in, quiet dude falls in love with dog, quiet dude’s life suddenly becomes a whole lot of hell. That sounds boring and, like I noted before, on paper, it probably would be. However, that’s what happens when you’re able to transport something to the silver screen, where you not only having somebody direct others about how certain scenes are supposed to sound or look, but also those “others” being some very talented actors and actresses that can jump into any role, without ever making us second-guess their casting decision.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

I’m rambling on so much like this because it’s so very often I get a small, intimate movie such as this, that doesn’t feel like it’s being that way due to budget-constraints. There are so many movies out there (aka, indies), that feel like they have a small scope because they can’t go anywhere else. Here however, director Michaël R. Roskam keeps his story tiny, because that’s what it exactly is: A small crime-tale of a bunch of thugs, low-life’s and simple do-gooders that just can’t help but be taken down by the world they live in.

And that’s why most of the Drop works; whenever it pays close attention to these characters, their connections to one another and what makes them who they are, the movie stays interesting. They’re not the best-written characters in the whole world, but they’re done well enough to where you can find a little something to sympathize with in each and everyone of them. Then again though, it’s also easy to be able to distrust some of them too and realize that while on the surface, they may be fine, simple-minded people, deep down inside, underneath all of the tucks and turns, they can be really mean, almost savage-like people. They can easily do the wrong thing, to the wrong person, and continue to move on with their lives as is, even if it does beat them up inside. They’re just trying to survive in a world that, for the most part, could live on without them.

Sounds like some pretty sad, mopey stuff to deal with here, but I can assure you, the movie’s not nearly as dark as I present it to be. There is some humor to be found and when the actual crime-angle of this story starts to develop, there can be some fun to be found. However, the double-edged sword here is that while it may be fun to watch a bunch of gangsters go around, shooting, killing and yelling obscenities at one another, it doesn’t really add up to much like the character-based drama does. Still though, I can’t complain too much because while there is plenty of moments just simply dedicated to people doing bad things, there are still more than a few scenes where it’s just two characters getting to know one another better and for me, that was always something to watch and listen to. Even if, sometimes, it didn’t pan-out to much in the end other than being “bad guy”, “good guy”.

And a lot of that credit deserves to go towards Roskam, who got a very good cast together and allowed them to just sink their teeth into some small, bare-bones material we don’t see too often from these actors. Tom Hardy is doing that silent-yet-demanding thing he does in most of his movies, and while he has to do it this time with a New York-accent, the guy handles it very well. We get the feeling right away that this character is a good guy, but we also understand that there may be some darkness lying underneath it all and Hardy’s to thank for making us think that each and everytime this character’s morals get called into question.

I don't know who's scarier.

I don’t know who’s scarier.

Even Noomi Rapace does a fine job playing something of New York white trash, even if she has to do the accent, too. She’s nice enough to where you could see why some normal, everyday dude would want to take a run at her, but you can also tell that she’s been through a whole heck of a lot in her life as is, so she won’t put up with it anymore. Her and Hardy develop a nice bit of chemistry that definitely seems like it’s going to lead some heavy foreplay, and to just watch as they both wonder how to go about it is neat, especially since these characters both seem to know what they want, they just don’t know to go about getting it from the other.

You know, much like how most of my relationships with the opposite-sex are!

Anyway, most of the spotlight is being put on this film because it just so happens to feature the final performance from one James Gandolfini and honestly, it’s a great swan song for him to go out on. It’s not the most perfect performance he’s ever done and it sure as hell isn’t much different from his days as Tony Soprano, but it’s the kind of role that makes us look at Gandolfini and realize what a talent he truly was. He was mean and nasty when he wanted to scare a room full of children, but he could also lighten any mood of a scene with that big grin of his. But no matter what, you always knew that there was more to his character than what he was presenting, which is why it was always a pleasure of watching him just act; something he definitely seemed perfectly suited to do right from the very start.

Consensus: The crime-thriller aspects of the Drop may not always mesh very well with the character-based ones, but nonetheless, it’s still an interesting watch, especially if you want to see some great actors put in some wonderful work. And most of all, if you want to see James Gandolfini’s final role ever on film.

8 /10 = Matinee!!

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2010)

Jim Morrison wouldn’t have lasted a day with Mozart around, shaking things up.

Meet Glenn Gould, a child prodigy pianist who traveled over from Canada into the U.S., and made quite a name for himself in the classical music genre. He did certain things to original composings by Bach and Mozart that nobody had ever dared tried to do before and his unique style of playing the piano really made him an act that people needed to see, as soon as possible. Problem was, off the stage and away from the crowd, Gould was something of a troubled-dude. He didn’t have many friends, and for those who could consider them as such, didn’t really know him all that well. Did it stem from the fact that he was a hypochondriac? Was it because he and his family hardly ever spoke? Or, was it simply because he was just too smart for his own good? Whatever the reason may have been, is totally unknown, because just as soon as he hit the ripe of age of 50, Gould passed away, leaving a legion of adoring fans and pieces of work in the dust.

The general consensus of classical music is that, for the most part, it’s considered “pretentious”. The music itself; the people who conduct it; the people who listen to it – it doesn’t matter, it’s all pretentious. Some of that’s correct and some of it isn’t, because classical music is just like any other music out there. Sure, there usually aren’t any lyrics in any classical pieces, and there certainly aren’t any surprise guest-appearances by Lil’ Jon to be found either; but it’s music no less and it deserves to be treated as such.

That’s why, despite not having much of a background in classical music, I decided to give this documentary a shot. And I’m glad I did because I realized one key element to music that I so desperately needed to be reminded of: Every piece of music matters. And sometimes, not even just the pieces themselves, it’s those who create it, why, and the kind of impact they left on the music world for creating this one piece of music. Some may consider it “bad”, others, “a near-masterpiece”, but overall, it’s music that made a difference and I don’t see any problem with that whatsoever.

Ironic, I guess?

Ironic, I guess?

Which is why watching Glenn Gould’s story be told to us in a chronological, simple way was compelling; he’s the type of artist most comedy sketch-shows make fun of because of how strange he was, but that’s sort of the mystery behind Glenn Gould, the person, hence why Glenn Gould, the musician, was so enthralling to begin with.

And while watching this documentary, you sort of get the impression that Gould was just like every other musician out there who has ever been touted as “the next big thing”, only to have a nervous breakdown, turn away from the public eye, do whatever they want and basically, fade off into oblivion. However, in the case of Gould, there’s something slightly different – even while he was away and doing his own thing, in his own spare time, the man was still working and keeping himself busy, it just wasn’t what anybody was expecting him to be working on.

Rather than sticking straight to creating classical music, Gould traveled out into different places like the recording studio, radio, film-making, acting, writing, etc. And while he was working on these various different forms, he was finding more and more ways to make them accessible to those who wanted to work with them. He was the type of artist that was considered being perfect at his craft, yet, didn’t let that fully get to this head and just lounge out till the end of his days, while simultaneously collecting paycheck, after paycheck. Nope, not Glenn Gould and there’s something refreshing to see that in a musician of his stature.

Though it may seem like I’m just filling this review up to talk on and on about Gould himself, rather than actually focus on the movie at all, I can assure you, that is not the case. It’s just difficult to talk about a documentary when it’s main attraction is the subject itself in whom it is documenting. Because with Glenn Gould, you get a person who did something wonderful with his instrument and the world he lived in, yet, didn’t know exactly what to do with all of that notoriety. Instead, he just got away from it all and continued to live a quiet, peaceful life. But while this may all seem peachy-keen, the movie assures you it’s not. Most of this is due to the fact that Gould mostly kept to himself, but that he also didn’t always treat those around him with the utmost love and respect.

Play that funky music, white boy!

Play that funky music, white boy!

Later on by the end of the film, we get the impression that Gould was really “losing it” by the end of his life, which isn’t just sad because it’s a fragile, yet, incredible mind going to waste, but that all of those who ever supported him, were nowhere to be found. That’s not necessarily their fault, as much as it is his own, but it’s still interesting to see how this guy reacts to the fame brought onto him for his magnificent playing skills and also how he seemingly pushed any of those who ever loved him, away.

Which, once again, brings us to the mystery of just who the hell this person truly was underneath the wonderful piano-playing? Was he some sort of genius that was a lot better at playing music, then performing it in front of huge crowds and having to promote it? Or, simply, was he just another Kurt Cobain of his day? A creative genius that, sadly, was misunderstood by all of those around him. Thankfully, for Gould, there was no MTV, there was no Courtney Love and there sure as hell was no Smells Like Teen Spirit. Instead, there was just him against the world and it what proved to be his predictable, yet utterly tragic downfall.

Consensus: Regardless of your musical interests, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould will please anybody looking for an intriguing documentary about a subject who wasn’t what we’d call “normal”, nor would we call “uninteresting”.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually sit. But in crowded rooms, mind you.

How I usually sit. But in crowded rooms, mind you.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Trip to Italy (2014)

More food; more locations; more My Cocaine impressions; more British-talk.

Two years after their initial food/sights tour of Northern England Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are back at it again! But this time, they’re going to Italy! Meaning, more food, more spicy women, more impersonations, more jokes, more one-up-manship, and definitely more conversations about their careers and where they’re headed. However, now that both of them are a bit older now, they question just whether or not has life passed them by and have a trouble accepting the fact that they are, yes, nearly 50. But Rob and Steve are jolly fellows that don’t let this get in the way of their wonderful getaway too much and instead, depend on one another for laughs and their own respective families for some sort of comfort when they get lonely, or sad at night. Still though, the two wake up the next day and woolah, they’re back on the road, doing what they do best: Just being themselves. Even if they do sometimes get on each other’s nerves than they would like to.

So yeah, the original Trip was a nice, delightful piece of British cinema; which is especially strange, considering it was originally made-for-TV and spliced together for a full-feature flick. While that was clear and abundant in the first movie, with some scenes not necessarily feeling like they’re adding up to much, it seems like, for the second time around, director Michael Winterbottom, Brydon and Coogan have at least realized that in order to make a movie work and be effective, it has to be cohesive. Therefore, not only is the editing a lot better this go around, but the movie itself is a bit tighter in terms of how it balances its comedy aspects, along with its dramatic ones.

"Eat up, ya twit!"

“Eat up, ya twit!”

And because these guys aren’t getting any younger, they’re starting to think like older-men – which always means that there’s going to be a whole lot more drama added to the mix. Because even though both Brydon and Coogan are exceptionally hilarious fellas, two guys who seem to not have a care in the world of who they offend, or what sort of jokes they make, they’re still human beings. And human beings have feelings, dammit!

That’s why, for every ten-minute straight-sequence in which we get Brydon and Coogan riffing off one another and doing their hilarious impersonations of various James Bond actors, there’s at least two dramatic-sequences in which these two guys talk about how they’re getting old and how life seems to be passing them by. Also not to mention, these guys realize that they can’t do much about it and instead, decide to discuss whether they even want to go on further with their careers, regardless of how well they’re doing at the present time. It’s actually kind of shocking to see these two get so candid about these aspects of real life, but I guess it had to happen eventually, and I’m glad it happened in this movie, with these characters (which, I guess, is something of a joke), and together.

Which is why I don’t find it at all dumb to say that the most interesting aspect of this movie are both Brydon and Coogan themselves. Because see, like with the first one, it’s clear that these guys are playing slight-versions of themselves that may not always be on-point, but at least hit the nail on the head with how they’re famously perceived in the media, or those not-so close to them. But what’s always struck me as a little fishy was that most of this isn’t just improvised by whatever comedic-genius they concoct next, but they even share the writing credits, along with Winterbottom as well. Meaning that even when they aren’t just saying what comes to their minds first, usually, the stuff they say, has to be written out for them to then say again in front of the screen.

And this makes me ponder something: “Just how much of this movie is them just talking about stuff their “characters” would talk about? Or, how much of it really is just them, the real life personas of Coogan and Brydon, just being themselves?

Honestly, it was quite easy to tell this in the first movie; obviously Coogan was being a miserable dick because that’s how everybody and their grand-mothers perceived him as being. But here, he’s hardly ever mean to anybody and, here’s the biggie, actually laughs more than a dozen times at Brydon. In fact, if I were to state who walks away with this movie, in a comedy-sense, I’d say it would be Brydon. And this should honestly be no surprise; the guy was a delight to watch in the first movie and here, he’s as charming as ever, showing the world that he’s capable of more than just being able to do some killer Al Pacino and Michael Caine impersonations. Some of it goes a bit over-board (as most sequels do), but when he’s on a roll, the guy doesn’t stop and it’s great to see, especially considering that you know most of this is just what hits his noggin first. The guy is literally just as funny, if not funnier than Steve Coogan and there’s something to be said for that, considering the Coogs has always prided himself in stealing just about every show he’s been involved with.

But, if you were to ask me who walks away with this movie, just as in the whole thing itself, it’s Coogan. In a way, you could say he gets the last laugh, but that’s what he spends most of the movie doing: Laughing. Not just as Brydon, but at life in general. See, Coogan’s always been something of a miserable, dead-pan dude. He’s never had a positive outlook on life and, for the most part, it’s worked out well for him and his career. He’s typically the go-to-guy if you need an angry, mean Brit who doesn’t give a shit what you say, or how you say it; he’s better than you, he knows it, and don’t worry, you’ll find that out soon enough. Maybe that’s just something I see, but whatever it may be, it’s carried on throughout his career long enough for me to realize that this is what I can expect from Coogan, playing a character or not.

Besties 4 Lyfe

Besties 4 Lyfe

However, because Coogan is practically playing himself, it’s downright shocking to see him smile and, for once in a long time I imagine, be happy about the life he has. Sure, he has some reservations about certain choices he’s made in the past and he definitely wishes that he hadn’t chosen some movies that may have made it look like he was in it “just for the money”, but overall, Coogan is a happy guy. He smiles, laughs, enjoys other people’s company and actually wants to have a relationship with his son. Now, once again, I’m not sure how much of this is actually true about Coogan himself, or just the version of himself he’s playing here, but it seems almost all too real for him to be fretting on about, without hardly an emotional-connection to be found inside of him.

All that said, it’s Coogan who is really the one to watch in this movie. Sure, he and Brydon are hilarious together and a certain bit about the later killing the former had me practically in stitches, but it’s when these guys drop the facade for a short while, talk about life, exchange ideas and get to know what it’s like to “be friends”, that really stuck a chord with me. They’re funny guys, but they’re still guys nonetheless and they deserved to be seen as such.

Roger Moore impressions and all.

Consensus: Funny, heartfelt, and exquisitely shot, the Trip to Italy proves that Brydon, Coogan, and Winterbottom could continue at this story for decades and it will almost never fail. Just so long as the laughs are there, and the melancholy can still be found.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Strike a pose. Be old. Make me cry.

Strike a pose. Be old. Make me laugh. Make me cry.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The One I Love (2014)

Every couple needs a little bit of a spicing up here and there. Just don’t over-do it.

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are a couple who has come to a stand-still; they love each other, want to stay together and maybe even start a family, but they’re just too messy and broken right now to really feel like they can go any further. That’s why when their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends spending some time at this little retreat of his that he gives to all his patients, they can’t help but jump right right at the idea. After all, a little time alone and with nobody else is maybe all they actually need. So when they do get there and realize everything is exactly as promised, they have a whole bunch of fun: They cook, smoke pot, drink, eat, have sex, tell jokes and even get a bit sentimental towards one another. However, one day, while rummaging throughout the retreat’s guest-house, they realize that something strange is going on and it not only affects them now, at this moment in their lives, but for what could be the rest of their time as a couple. Or, at least what’s left of it, that is.

So yeah, I’m beating around the bush an awful ton with that synopsis there and that’s sort of the problem right away with reviewing, hell, even talking about this movie: You don’t want to spoil it for others. And usually, yeah, people say that and they either: 1) spoil the whole thing, all free-nilly, or 2) they spoil the most obvious plot-points of the whole movie like, it “all ends up being a dream”, or “Bruce Willis is actually a ghost”, or other stuff like that.

How I'd like to imagine Mark Duplass spends most of his days. While still being naturally charming as hell. Damn him.

How I’d like to imagine Mark Duplass spends most of his days. While still being naturally charming as hell. Damn him.

Either way, you catch my drift. But that’s why the One I Love is so different; not just in terms of the quality of the movie itself, but because you can’t really even hint at what this movie’s about, because it comes as such a shock.

Take me and my experience with this movie for instance; before hearing about this and deciding to give it a shot, I checked out the Rotten Tomatoes synopsis for this and it read something like, “A failing couple spends a week at a retreat to bring back the love into their relationship”. Again, that is not exactly word-for-word what the synopsis said and because this was quite some time ago when I checked it out/saw the movie, clearly, things have changed and more people are talking about this movie and even, as predicted, giving some small hints here and there away about what’s really up with this movie.

But to be honest, don’t even read any of those other reviews, no matter how talented or beloved the writer may be (except me of course, so stay put!); they’re only going to give you more impressions/expectations of what to expect, and it totally defeats the purpose of small, yet surprising movies such as this. We mostly hear about them through the grapevine, in which some cool, hip and rad person will say, “Hey, did you see that new indie with Mark Duplass, brah?”, presumably right after taking a swig of an ironic PBR. And while most people will probably either give a flat-out, “No.”, or just ignore this person and put them back in their corner, the fact is this: That person, as annoying as they may be in whatever normal discussions about life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, still threw that idea into your head.

This may even get you to think, “Oh shit. There’s a new Mark Duplass movie out?”, and from then on, you will know that there’s a new movie with Mark Duplass out and you’ll want to possibly check it out, if the time in your hectic schedule ever clears up. That’s how, back in the day at least, most indies survived and were actually seen by people – nowadays, anybody can talk about a certain movie, no matter how small or obscure it may be, and it can reach millions, upon millions of people that may have the same interests in Mark Duplass movies as you (and yes, the only reason I’m saying Mark Duplass instead of the far-more well-known Elisabeth Moss is because referencing Mark Duplass in an everyday conversation just gives you the impression of how “small” a movie he’s involved with actually is).

And you, Ms. Moss. I can't even start.

And you, Ms. Moss. I can’t even start…..

And honestly, I have no problem with that – all films deserved to be known about, discussed, passed onto others, etc. That’s what film was invented for in the first place (not just for money, hookers, and coke, because Hollywood), and that’s how I’d like to imagine the rest of the movie world will continue to be like. However, there are certain instances in which there comes a point you need to stop talking about a movie, if only to not just spoil the fun for everyone else. This is that type of movie and as much as I may annoyingly be harping on it, please do not read other reviews of this.

Instead, just know that Duplass and Moss are great in this movie and show that they are able to stretch their acting-abilities further and further than what we originally see of them. Just know that the movie may not be the most perfect flick to take your significant other out to see, only because it will bring out the worst kinds of discussions between you two during the ride home. Just know that while the movie does have a few neat tricks here and there up its sleeves, it is not by any means, perfect and does get a bit messy when it tries to explain what it’s really supposed to be about. And lastly, just know that it’s good and that you should see it, if only because you want curiosity to murder that cat and give you some sort of relief that yes, you had finally seen that “new indie with Mark Duplass”.

Brah.

Consensus: Tricky and imperfect, the One I Love is a rather unique take on a story we’ve seen done a hundred times before that both brings up questions about relationships, and gives Duplass and Moss plenty to do and entertain us with.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Put 'em together, they're the perfect couple. But are they.......? Tune in next week!

Put ‘em together, they’re the perfect couple! But are they…….? Tune in next week!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

If I Stay (2014)

It’s Ghost, but with no Swayze. Points already deducted.

Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), her mother (Mireille Enos), her father (Joshua Leonard), and her little bro (Jakob Davies) all go out for a trip during a snow day. What starts off as promising day, suddenly turns to tragedy when they are all involved in a very serious car accident, leaving all four of them in critical condition. However, Mia ends up having an out-of-body experience where she’s not able to actually get into any contact with those around her, but is still able to see and hear every little thing. She doesn’t know whether she’s going to die or not, but she puts up no matter what and decides that it’s best to reflect on what got her here in the first place, and those who matter enough that she’d want to be alive for them. One person in particular is her indie-rockin’ ex-boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) who she’s had a rough history with, but realizes that she loves and wants to spend more time with. All she has to do is fight, or something like that.

Every once and awhile, there comes a movie that totally blinds me by surprise. Not because it’s amazing or downright Earth-shattering that it makes me re-think my love for movies, as well as my whole life leading up to seeing it – nope, it’s because a movie that I didn’t expect to like in the least bit, let alone go into already hating, does something and that’s “has an effect on me”. Once again, I’m not saying that If I Stay is the one movie this year, so far, that’s made me think about those who are in my life, or has forced me to listen to the National for a whole week – I’m saying that it’s a movie I dreaded going into and about ten minutes realized that, “Oh shit, this is gonna be good.”

Parents are weird. Especially when your dad's supposed to be dead in real life.

Parents are weird. Especially when your dad’s supposed to be dead in real life.

With the incredible amount of movies I see (all good, bad, new and old), this so rarely often happens. But when your movie is another, run-of-the-mill young adult adaptation, especially when that’s coming a month or two after the Fault In Our Stars, then me actually liking, let alone, enjoying something along the same lines is downright unbelievable. In fact, if you had come up to me about a month or two ago, slapped me on the back and told me that, believe it or not, “I’d actually like this new Chloë Grace Moretz-starring young adult tale in which she plays a dying girl vowing for her love”, then I would have not only called you crazy and beat you up, but I would have probably acted like I never met you in my whole life.

But, here we are: A movie seen, a few friendships broken and more than a few assault charges added to personal record, and I actually liked If I Stay.

And what surprises me more now than ever before, isn’t that I actually liked it, but I seem to be the only one who actually does give a hoot about its existence. Sure, the audience who this is clearly made for in mind will absolutely run to the hills and then some just to see this, but for the critics and “professionals” of the movie world out there, I’m surprised by the lack of any love for this movie. That’s not me saying that every person, professional or not, should agree with whatever my opinion on a movie is, or isn’t, but it’s surprising to me on this occasion, that not only do I end up being the ultimate super fan for something I didn’t even care for seeing in the first place, but that I actually find myself wanting to tell others to check it out, even if they were in the same frame of mind I was going into it.

Typically, I would only go to one of these flicks if I had nothing else better to do, or if I was trying to impress with a girl with something other than my masculine body, but here I was, sitting in a room full of sappy teenage girls who were just looking for a cry, and the old dudes that probably were, too, but I won’t even bother going deep into that. But see, while they were all expecting a good cry, I was just expecting something that would have me laughing my ass off non-stop at all of the ultra-serious moments and, as a result, get an awful bunch of glares from those around me.

However, that didn’t happen. In fact, dare I say it, I actually joined the rest of the crowd in the tearing-up because, for what it’s worth, this is what happens when sap is done right. You can tell that throughout this whole movie, director R. J. Cutler is just pulling and peeling away at our souls in such an overly-manipulative, cloying way, but it somehow got me. Most of that has to do with the fact that when Cutler has to give us these small, bare moments of actual human connection and insight, he delivers. He doesn’t try to over-do the fact that these two teens in the middle of this love are ill-matched for each other in the first place – instead, he just lets it tell itself, with a few flashbacks to Mia herself running around, yelling at people, and being upset about everything that’s happened to her, those she loves and what is waiting for her if she ever wakes the hell up.

Actually, that was probably the worst aspect for me with this movie. Not only did it feel like a kid version of Ghost (hence the joke up above), but it’s rule are never made clear to us. Can Mia herself actually physically make herself come alive? Or, is she just supposed to stand around, yelling at those who clearly can’t hear/see her, and just wait to see how the whole medical procedure plays out? It was never made clear to us and although you could make an argument that the movie wasn’t trying to focus on this as much as they were with the characters and their relationships with one another, I would also argue right back and say then don’t even have the whole angle included in the first place. Just have her in some strange after-life sequence that lasts all of five minutes, have it all happen at the end, and get us to the point of what it’s trying to say.

It would have been a whole lot simpler, but since it was done in the book, I guess it makes sense to do it here. Although there is definitely a thing such as, “Sometimes what reads well on paper, doesn’t always play out so well on film”. Don’t know who said that or when, all I know is that it’s a saying and it’s one I live by for all these novel adaptations.

Anyway, back to the good stuff about this movie. What it does do so well is that it presents us with a believable, relatively likable relationship that makes you want both sides to be together and happy in the end. However, it doesn’t start off that way, because when we’re introduced to Mia, we get the idea that she’s a band weenie that enjoys Bach, Mozart and all that classical stuff that’s made for old people and rich, snobby teenagers, so when she and this Adam dude meet and he’s automatically attracted to her and making all sorts of moves on her, it’s a bit too sudden and not entirely understandable. He says that the reason he noticed her in the first place was because how she played the cello, was with exact precision and passion, something that he clearly wants in his life. Or something like that. Honestly, people, I don’t remember, nor do I know. All I do know is that it was stupid.

"Clear out! Ghost coming through!"

“Clear out! Ghost coming through!”

That’s why after awhile, when we do begin to believe in these two as a couple, it’s surprising, and a delightful one at that. Moretz and Blackley are charming personalities in their own rights, but together, they have a solid chemistry that feels all full of love and sympathy, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye on every decision the other makes. They’re a typical couple and because of that, they’re worth fighting for when all seems to go bad for Mia.

And speaking of Mia, the character, she really is a nice launching-pad for Moretz to prove that she truly is a young and bright talent to look out for. Sure, she’s gotten plenty of chances in the past to prove that she’s got what it takes to be the next Mandy Moore, or even Lindsay Lohan (neither roads end well, but you get my point), but with a performance like this, I see something of a Jena Malone. She’s cute and definitely has a certain amount of sex-appeal to the way she makes herself look, but she’s too smart and wise to get carried down by all that sappy bullshit mostly connected to stuff like high school, or love, or anything like that. Moretz definitely has an even brighter future ahead of her and now that she seems to finally be growing into her own woman, I can’t wait to see what she planned next.

But like I was saying before, because they’re a believable couple, there’s a feeling of romance in the air, but it’s the sweet and tender kind that you can only find in a romance-melodrama about two kids on the verge of graduating high school, where anything and everything seems possible. I too once was in this same position and while it didn’t quite work out well for me, it was nice to see it play out once again in front of my eyes, but this time, with something feeling of honesty that wasn’t made just to ensure that the audience would sob their guts out in the end. It’s made to have us remember the young love we may have once felt in our lives and remember that life, no matter whose, is precious.

And just like that, the sappiness got me.

Those meddling kids.

Consensus: With most of its faults lying in the gimmick it presents, If I Stay can be a bit messy, but when it wants to deliver some heartfelt, emotional scenes of young love, and people in love in general, it works well. And clearly not just for its target audience, either.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Nothing says "millennial teen-romance" quite like a shot of people talking selfies.

Nothing says “millennial teen-romance” quite like a shot of people talking selfies.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Under the Skin (2014)

Yes, there is such a thing as “sexy aliens”.

An alien (Scarlett Johansson) takes over the body of a sexy, young-ish looking thing and carries out a cryptic message from the powers that be up above. Although the message is not made clear, it seems like she is to find random, lonely men on the streets of Scotland, take them back to an isolated place, and tease them with sex, yet, at the same time, have these poor guys sucked into whatever gelatin-like substance that turns them into something that’s clearly not human. The alien is also followed by a dude on a motorcycle who keeps track of the things she does, as well as to whom, but begins to grow suspicious when she gets something of a conscious. That, or the fact that she’s noticed what the real world is like and doesn’t just want to be an alien anymore, but more human than human. If that’s even possible, that is.

If you’re confused by that synopsis right there, don’t worry, because I am too and I wrote the damn thing! However, I think that’s the first element that needs to be said about this movie: Don’t expect to know much of anything that’s going on. If you can do that and are fine with that, then this movie will be something of a strange, yet delightful treat; if you can’t, however, it may be a bit of stretch. Not just for you to stay awake and continue to give this a chance, but for your mind because this thing will surely do a number on it, as it did to mine.

I guess it’s worth noting that director Jonathan Glazer has been trying to get this movie made for a total of nine years, and whatever those reasons may have been behind the constant delays in filming, seem somewhat reasonable. This movie is definitely not an easy one to get involved with, let alone fund in hopes of more money coming back, but it gets away with being just what it is. Which is, essentially, Glazer’s insane, but beautiful mind at work.

At least we know she enjoys long walks on the beach. That's one thing we know about her.

At least we know one thing about her: She likes long walks on the beach.

Some of the things he does in this movie are incredibly stunning to look at, but not because it’s anything weird, per se; it’s more because you can never tell what sort of style Glazer himself is incorporating into this film. The story sort of comes second to whatever visual imagery Glazer wants to create and because of that, we have a movie that’s not only gorgeous, but rather large in scope of what it wants to talk about, or where it wants to go. Once again, the movie never makes itself clear about what it’s showing us and why, but that’s not the point; the point is to see what Glazer can bring to the screen and how he’s able to entrance us.

Now, that’s not to say the story doesn’t exist, nor is it not a very compelling one; in fact, it’s downright terrifying at times, but for the whole sake that it’s confusing and never wholly clear. But it is to say that Glazer wants to give us a feeling that even though the film takes place on planet Earth (in Scotland to be exact), it isn’t necessarily easily understandable, nor is it a movie that wants to connect with us. It wants to freak us out, get under our skin, and continuously shock us by bringing whatever sort of crazy imagery Glazer himself has to bring to our eyes. Some of it’s pretty, and some of it’s downright disturbing – but it’s all shocking, in the best ways possible.

That last sentence could actually apply to Scarlett Johansson as well who, for most of the movie, seems like she herself is transfixed in some sort of daze that when she wakes up, snaps out of it and has to be charming, it’s impressive-as-hell and makes you want to slap all of the nay-sayers who have been questioning her talents as an actress since day one. Now, if you don’t already know something about this movie, it’s that ScarJo actually drove a truck around Scotland, picked up random strangers off the street, drove them around, talked to them and had it all filmed, with her character’s persona totally in tact. It’s a odd element of Borat that this movie has, but it works so well because it makes you question just how far Glazer and co. were willing to go with this device, and just what each and every person they talked to was going to bring to the table.

But the one who really comes out on top of it all is Johansson herself, as she’s able to not only have us all hot, sweaty and bothered by being in her presence, but also be absolutely petrified of what she is going to do next and to whom. Her character goes unnamed and because of that, she stays a complete mysterious to us the whole entire time. And I definitely like to think that Glazer preferred it this way, rather than giving us the impression that we know this character and can easily spell her out from the very beginning.

In fact, you could even say that about the whole movie, really. To see a something that doesn’t really give a crap about keeping up with story or any certain agenda for that matter, is quite refreshing for someone like me. Sure, I would have definitely loved this movie more if the third-act didn’t topple over itself once it decided that it wanted to take its character seriously and have her seem more like a “human”, but that didn’t bother me as much as it just made me think more about this movie and what message Glazer was trying to convey with it. Is he trying to show us that “being human”, isn’t just about looking like so and being a normal, everyday citizen? Or, is it about what’s really on the inside of a person that counts and makes us an actual living, breathing, and sexxing human being?

Yep, don't even ask.

Yep, don’t even ask.

Both questions deserve to be brought up, especially when watching something as unique and mind-boggling as this, but a part of me feels like I’m just looking into something a lot deeper than I should be. That’s not to say if I went up to Glazer in real life and started having a discussion with him about this movie and my thoughts/ideas about it, that he wouldn’t welcome them because this is the kind of movie that invites analysis from various view-points. However, another part of me just believes that I want to dig deeper and deeper into this movie so that I can feel “smarter” than the rest of the bunch that may have seen this and left utterly confused. Not just with the movies, but with their own lives in general.

But anyway, I digress before I get completely off-track: This movie’s something else, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s surprising in the certain places it goes and how Glazer makes his story seem like anything could happen, and there’d be no problem with that whatsoever. When you’re a film maker that’s made it clear your story could take place in any universe, then the whole landscape is your playing field and it was an absolute treat to see Glazer constantly play with whatever tools he had at his disposal. I may make the movie seem more “fun”, than what it would present itself as being through its advertising, but there’s a certain element of that to be felt in here; you don’t fully know what to expect next from anything here and there’s something entertaining about that.

If only more movies were like that, we’d probably be in a much better place altogether.

Consensus: While sometimes bordering on being incoherent, Under the Skin isn’t about its story, or whatever message it’s trying to get across, it’s about how far Jonathan Glazer is able to go with the look, the feel and the pulse of his movie, while we just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it for as much, or for as long as we can.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Alien or not, I'll follow her anywhere.

Alien or not, I’d follow her anywhere.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Hey, if torture can work for Jack Bauer, it can work for anyone! Right, guys? Guys?…….

Late one fateful night, an Afghan taxi driver by the name of Dilawar picks up a passenger and isn’t ever seen again by his friends or his family. Reason being? He killed himself while being imprisoned inside the Parwan Detention Facility where he was questioned by American soldiers. However, did these soldiers do more than just questioning Dilawar? Did they rough him up a bit to ensure that they’d get the answer they wanted? Or, did they do a whole lot more than just “roughing up a bit”? And even if they did do that, would they even be in trouble? Documentarian Alex Gibney examines the story of Dilawar, those who were charged in his brutal treatment at the detention center and how so many other Afghan prisoners were taken in on a daily basis, with little to no reason other than they may have information regarding Osama Bin Laden, or other known terrorists at the time.

What’s so interesting about what Gibney does here, is that while he does go all over the place, focusing on the whole picture of what’s really going on here, from the beginning of the war, to Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush themselves, he never loses sight of what really made this story possible in the first place: Dilawar and what happened to him. Because deep inside of all of the numerous threads explored here, no matter how distasteful some of these truths unearthed may have you feel, no matter how enraged you may be by the end, there’s something completely and utterly depressing about Dilawar, his story and how he met the end of his life.

At least he's got a fresh-ass shirt on him now...

At least he’s got a fresh-ass shirt on him now…

See, with Dilawar’s story, we realize that he, along with so many other detainees in these detention centers, is just a normal, everyday citizen, as if he were you or I. However, the only thing separating him from us is that he was an Afghan citizen and at that point in time, the U.S. Army wasn’t taking any chances one bit and was just picking up each and every person they found to be even the slightest suspicious of being a possible terrorist. Didn’t matter if it was true or not, the Army needed to bring people in, torture the hell out of them, and see if they could get any possible answers out of them whatsoever.

Dilawar just so happened to be one of those people and he met his end in such a sad, brutal way because of so.

His story is the launching-off point for what Gibney wants to talk about and explore, and it’s deserving. Not because everything about Dilawar’s story is what helps Gibney come back to some sort of human-connection when all is said and done and he gets off of his soap box, but because it shows us that Dilawar was like every other captive inside one of these detention centers. Sure, there were definitely a few whose suspicions turned out to be actually true, but you have to think of how few that number is, compared to all of those who were taken in, brutally tortured, humiliated, made out to be “less than human”,  and even died in the custody of the U.S. Army.

And trust me, this isn’t just going to be a whole post of me attacking the U.S. Army for all their immoral-doings in the war; in fact, I’ll give most of them the benefit of the doubt. They’re all doing a job that I would never be able to bring myself to in my life and because of that, I give them a salute. However, there is something to be said for when those soldiers take advantage of the certain amount/level of power they have. It’s like what was discussed in the Invisible War (a documentary you must see, if you haven’t already done so) – does being a soldier for the Army and protecting your country mean that you can practically get away with anything that would be deemed “illegal” if you were still living in your country and not on the battlefield?

The answer to that is clearly no and Gibney knows this. However, he doesn’t give us any easy answers to make it clear exactly what he’s thinking, or even what he’s trying to say at any given moment. He easily could have made this a whole two hours of just him getting on everything that has to do with the Army; those who enlisted into it, as well as those powerful politicians who back it up with all their might, but he doesn’t. He keeps everything away at a relatively minor distance that’s hardly ever over-stepped, even though it could have easily been.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

But like I was saying before, with this movie, Gibney reminds us what it’s like to be and stay human, even in the times of war. It made sense for most of the country to go absolutely and completely gung-ho about violence right as soon as the World Trade Center was attacked, but does that really mean we as a country are justified in acting the way we did, or hell, still do act? We’re paranoid for a reason, but does that really mean that we have to unreasonably make others pay for our thoughts and perceptions, regardless of if they turn out to be wrong?

Like every other question posed here in this movie, Gibney never gives a clear answer. Sometimes that’s a bit frustrating; other times, it’s comforting because so many documentarians feel the need to take a stance on a certain topic, without ever giving us a full, rounded-out story of everything we are being told. Here, we get to listen and learn from just about everybody who was involved with these detention centers and, after awhile, begin to realize that they too are just like you or I – normal, everyday human citizens. However, the only problem was that they were the ones with all the guns, the power, and the control to do anything that they wanted, when they wanted.

And Dilawar was the one who had to pay for it all. Although there are still plenty more where he came from and there shouldn’t be.

Consensus: Presenting as much facts as possible without over-cramming his movie, or our brains, Alex Gibney allows for Taxi to the Dark Side to be a thoughtful, mostly upsetting documentary about all those involved with the war and how all societies are affected by it.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

At least they held the sign up for him.

At least they held the sign up for him.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

What Richard Did (2013)

This Richard fella sure does like to do a lot of “things”.

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is the golden boy athlete who seems to have it all. Good looks, good parents, plenty of money, actual talent in rugby, and a very bright future ahead of him. However, there’s some quite dark lying inside of Richard that he doesn’t let everybody know about, but instead, just bottles it up all in. For some, that can work, but for others, it can’t – consider Richard in that later group. But the good thing for Richard is that he meets an out-of-towner named Lara (Róisín Murphy) who he ends up falling in love with. Problem with it though, is that he eventually begins to grow jealous of her and the numerous looks she’s getting from various men around her. Richard takes notice of this and one drunken night, it all comes to ahead when something very tragic occurs and he, as well as his lads, are left without any idea of knowing what to do next. Because, after all, they’re just teenagers and teenagers don’t always make the right decisions, especially when their futures are held in the balance.

So yeah, obviously from just reading that title, seeing that poster and reading that synopsis, we know that Richard does something that’s not too kind. However, in order to avoid from totally spoiling it all for you out there, I’ll just beat around the bush and not say what he does; even though it doesn’t really matter. Sure, there is an element of surprise here as to finding out what Richard does in fact do, but that’s not the main aspect this movie pays attention to the most.

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend.....

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend…..

See, what director Lenny Abrahamson does so well here is that he doesn’t just focus on what it is that Richard does to others around him, he pays more attention to the person of Richard, what makes him who he is and why he does the things he does to those around. His actions make him who he is, but there’s also a certain layer we get to watch and study delicately that not only gives us a glimpse into what he is thinking, at any given moment, but how he feels about what he’s thinking. Because, to be honest, Richard doesn’t always do/say the right thing, and rather than making him a detestable human being for doing such, the movie keeps us a couple of steps away from him so that we don’t judge him too harshly.

One could say that Abrahamson’s trying to have us sympathize for somebody who, for lack of a better term, is a bit of a dick, but you could also say that there isn’t really a stance Abrahamson takes with this character, or this whole movie for that matter. We just sit back and view Richard for what he is – questionable morals and all. And since Richard is such a challenging character to not only like, but watch, it makes the task all the more challenging for somebody like Jack Reynor, a relative new-comer at the time, to really pull it all off without over-doing it.

And somehow too, he’s a revelation to watch on screen. But it’s not that Reynor over-does it here with his acting; he’s actually quite subtle. Sure, the script and the direction calls on him to be so, but there are so many times that the camera just stays still straight on his face, as he watches those around him, or staring into space, and we’re left thinking, “What the hell is going on inside his damn head?” He always looks pissed and, in a way, slightly disappointed; disappointed with his life at the present, with his future, the fact that he doesn’t have the dream girl he oh so desires, his mates, we don’t know. It’s all pretty much a mystery to figure it out and that’s why Reynor’s performance is so great here – he keeps us guessing the whole entire time.

Which, for a young, sterling cat like Reynor, may not have been an easy job on his part. Without saying much at all, he’s given the task of just letting his facial-expressions do the talking at any given moment, but the guy handles it effortlessly, as if he’s been doing this his whole life. It’s nice to see that the U.S. has finally picked up on this kid’s talent and actually throw him in some movies. However, it’s such a shame that some of those movies happen to include pieces of junk like Delivery Man and, probably far more-known, Transformers: Age of Extinction.

That damn Michael Bay, man. He snatches up the talent as soon as they’re hot and ready and ruins them for the rest of us.

Bastard.

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy....

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy….

Anyway, like I was saying earlier about this character of Richard – while Reynor is superb as him, it’s really Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell who deserve the credit here. Like I said before, they give us an unsympathetic character, and don’t necessarily judge him; they simply present his story to us and allow us to make up our own minds about what decision of his is a good one, and a bad one. Better yet, it allows us to draw conclusions as to what really makes this guy, the guy we see at parties, just glaring blankly at the scenery at him. Is he sad? And if so, why? What’s he going to do about it? Hell, who is he going to do it to? So many questions are left up to us to figure out on our own and it can sometimes be enraging, but mostly, it’s just a challenge we ourselves have to think about long and hard.

That’s why the movie doesn’t always work, because while it doesn’t want to give away every answer, to every question it brings up, it still wants to keep on adding more and more fuel to the fire, almost to the point of where it seems like overkill. Sure, that’s not so bad if you have a rather large, ambitious movie, filled to the brim with numerous story-lines, going around all over the place, but when you have a small, hour-and-twenty-minute character-study, it does seem to be a bit of a selfish move. A selfish move not to give us a little more tokens for paying attention to certain things, but also because it just keeps on bring more to everything it wants to do. Maybe I’m just nit-picking and making problems that aren’t even there in the first place, but for me, I wanted just a bit more. A bit more of Richard, his back-story and just why he was such an angry bloke pretty much all of the time. I guess it’s something I’ll have to live with never fully finding out about.

Oh well.

That damn Michael Bay, though.

Consensus: Featuring an amazing performance from Jack Reynor in the lead titled-role, What Richard Did proves to be both a thought-provoking, as well as a sometimes enraging drama and exploration into the mind of a challenging character.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That's what Richard does.

…but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That’s what Richard does.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Fisher King (1991)

Have to look out for them homeless. They can improv with the best of ‘em.

Shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is at the top of his game; rich, famous, loved by almost everyone, has a few possible TV-deals in the pipeline and does whatever he wants, because he, quite frankly, thinks he’s the man. However, after he incidentally spurs on a caller to commit a killing spree, Jack is absolutely shocked and retreats from the spotlight. Three years later, he isn’t doing so well and is spending most of his time drinking, working in some low-rent, rental video store (it’s the 90’s), and, occasionally, pleases his loving, yet annoyed girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). That all changes when, late one night in a drunken stooper, Jack is almost killed by a bunch of punk kids who have nothing better to do than pick on homeless people. That is, until he’s saved by a lively, eccentric homeless man with a big imagination who goes by the name Parry (Robin Williams). Though Jack initially doesn’t want anything to do with Parry, he soon realizes that the two may be connected moreso than he could have ever originally imagined and Jack decides to stick with Parry and see if he can turn both of their lives around.

I must say one thing off the bat: This isn’t my first time seeing the Fisher King. It may be the first time seeing it and actually liking it, but overall, it’s maybe my second or third, and from what I can recollect, this movie and I don’t have the best relationship. However though, due to the recent tragic news of the passing of Robin Williams I decided, “What the heck?!? It’s on Netflix for Chrissakes!”

And while I’m not the least bit happy Williams is gone from our screens, as well as our lives, I am happy to see a film of his that reminds us all why he was such a lovable presence to watch in the first place.

"You don't know who I am? I'm the, aw, forget it, man!"

“You don’t know who I am? I’m the, aw, forget it, man!”

That said, Williams isn’t the only good thing here; he’s only one piece to a very large, very strange, and very manic puzzle. The one putting all of those pieces together? Director Terry Gilliam who, if you don’t know already, is a guy who has a rather strange style. Mostly all of his movies, in one way or another, take place in some sort of fantasy-world, however, it’s how he spins those stories to make them not only touch your everyday movie-goer, but even those who don’t really care for his fantasy films, or fantasy films as a whole in general.

That sad-sack person would normally be me, but somehow, that all changed here. Gilliam’s style didn’t bother me here, mostly due to the fact that I was happy to see him take an honest, down-to-Earth story about two people helping one another out, and only using the fantasy-sequences to express what it is that’s going on in one of those particular character’s minds. Therefore, they feel less showwy, as if Gilliam himself can’t wait to show you what a big, brave and creative mind he has in that big ol’ head of his, and more in-tune to what it is that this story is trying to get at here – which is how everybody blocks certain things out of their heads, just so that they can make more room for the happy, pleasing stuff that we don’t harp on as much as we should.

Sounds quite sappy and movie-of-the-week-ish, but taken in the context of this movie and the way Gilliam allows his character’s to speak for themselves, it feels as honest and as raw as any drama out there. Of course, this isn’t just a “drama” through and through; there are plenty of elements of comedy, fantasy, and a psychological thriller tricking on through and while it doesn’t always work, it’s at least a bold move on Gilliam’s part to at least try with it and come out on top, more times than not. Gilliam’s full of plenty of bold moves here, but where he really nails it is in just giving us a simple tale of two people trying to help one another out, and by doing so, helping those out around them as well.

Some Gilliam die-hards may consider this “too weak” or “ordinary”, even by his standards, but I feel like it’s the kind of movie he had to make, just to show us that yes, he has an ounce of humanity inside of his soul and yes, he does know what it’s like to just pay attention to his characters. Sure, the moments where we see mystical creatures roaming the streets of Manhattan may be a tad cool to look at, but they don’t add to much; what does add up to a whole lot are the characters and how we see each and everyone of them grow and continue to do so over the time we spend with them. Time which, mind you, is two-hours-and-20-minutes, yet, breezes by so quickly, you’ll hardly ever notice.

Jeff Bridges has been one of those actors who, it doesn’t seem to matter how many great movies a year he does, he just never gets the love, adoration and notice he wholeheartedly deserves. Sure, he won the Oscar for Crazy Heart some odd years back, but that isn’t anything compared to the kind of work he was putting in some, odd ten/twenty years before. And one of those great performances of his is here as Jack Lucas; a shock jock made in the same vein of Howard Stern, yet, has some level of a conscience that makes him worth being invested in. Because lord knows, if we didn’t at least feel like this Lucas guy had some level of sympathy located in the pit of his stomach, then there’d be no reason for us to really care about his character, his plight, or even what he aspires to do.

It would have just been watching a dick head, try not to be a dick head, even though we know whole well that he’s just that: A dick head.

The perfect date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

The perfect double-date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

And even if that is the case, Bridges plays him so well that we do begin to see little shades of who he really is start to come out and it’s hardly ever tacked-on or unbelievable. There’s a belief in the way Lucas really wants to help out those around him who deserve it the most, which makes it all the more sad to see what happens to him when he realizes that, sometimes, you just have to give up and let others do their own thing and live their own lives. You can go your whole entire existence, trying your near and dear hardest to make those around you feel better as good about themselves as you do about you, but in reality, not everybody wants that. Sometimes, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing and live their own lives, without having to swat a helping hand every second, of everyday.

Which is why, at first, Williams’ Parry seems a whole lot like a bunch of crap that a screenwriter would just cobble up together to make some of us love him automatically, but as time goes on and we start to see and understand more about Parry, who he is, who he was, and why he’s in the state that he’s in now, there’s a certain connection we build with this guy. He’s happy just being him and even though that does mean he constantly smells like garbage and having change thrown at him and his little coffee cup, he doesn’t care. He’s just a guy who wants to keep on living the life and being happy about all of it.

He’s the perfect character for Robin Williams to play and it’s no shock to anyone to find out that he’s great in the role. Say what you will about his whole, joke-a-second-act, when the man was on fire, there was nobody better. Here, as Parry, he gets a chance to not only be his own, manic-self, but even reveal more beneath the facade as well that, believe it or not, does resemble something of a human being. By now, we all know that Williams was capable of acting like a real person, and much less of a wacky and wild wildebeest who could never switch the “off” button, well, on, but to get a chance to see him juggle both aspects of his acting is a testament to the kind of performer he truly was.

And that’s not to discredit anybody else in this film; especially not the ladies of the cast. Amanda Plummer is suitably weird and quirky as the object of Parry’s affection, and Mercedes Ruehl absolutely deserved the Oscar she got for her work here as Anne, Jack’s no-nonsense, yet, incredibly lovely girlfriend – but it’s Williams and the show he’s able to give us that ends up striking the final note, making it the hardest and most felt one.

Exactly how he would have wanted it, too.

Consensus: Gilliam’s direction doesn’t always work, but when he’s paying attention to the cast and the humane story in the middle of the Fisher King, it’s an emotionally satisfying piece.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Go get 'em, tiger."

“Go get ‘em, tiger.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2014)

Age is only a number, you young whippersnappers!

Elaine Stritch was a woman of many talents. She could sing, dance, be funny, make people laugh, give a hell of a show, etc. But her best talent of all, was just being herself. Even if she was a brass, sometimes mean, older lady that usually gave those around her a hell of a hard time, she always gave it her all, no matter what it was she was working on. It could have either been as Jack’s mom on 30 Rock. Or her numerous appearances on Broadway. Or even the recordings she did for songs she sang in the past. No matter what she was doing, Elaine Stritch gave it her all and most of the time, came out on top, even if she had to knock a couple of people down a notch or two, just to prove that she’s the hardest, longest working-lady around.

All up until the day she died in her sleep, which, tragically, happened on the wee hours of July 17, 2014.

It’s hard to review a movie, let alone, a documentary, when the subject called into question has just recently passed away. Something else that makes the task a bit harder is knowing that the documentary is highlighting a certain part in said subject’s life that is not only some of their last months/years alive, but also that at the end, the movie lets it be known to us that the subject plans on retiring in 2015. Or in 2016. Or in 2017. And so on and so forth.

Usually how I get prepared for writing reviews. Except more make-up, dammit!

Usually how I get prepared for writing reviews. Except more make-up, dammit!

That little note at the end shows us all exactly the kind of hard-worker Elaine Stritch truly was, even up until her final days alive, but in order to totally understand that fact about her, you’d have to see this. Because, not only does director Chiemi Karasawa really get us up close and personal with the woman that was Elaine Stritch in front of the camera and her many friends/family, but who she was when the lights were turned on, the curtain dropped, and the show was over, which was a very vulnerable, self-conscious soul that wanted to always make those around her happy and feel pleased with what it is that she’s done for them. Which, when initially watching this flick, you’ll be surprised to see because Elain Stritch was no lovely walk-in-the-park to be around.

That’s not to say she was a terrible person, she was just an unpredictable one that usually controlled whatever conversation she was having, with whomever that person may have been. Such personable celebrities like Tracy Morgan, the late great James Gandolfini (who this film is, oddly enough, dedicated to), Tina Fey and even Alec Baldwin, all come to tell their story of how one Elaine Stritch put them in their place, just upon meeting her for the first time. They also go on to say that she was never afraid to speak her mind and call it like it she saw it, which, in the business that is the movie-making business, is usually more of a fault, than a positive. However, that was the beauty with Stritch, both off and on the screen: She was able to get past it all by just giving the crowd and everyone else exactly what they wanted from her.

She’s like any other performer out there in the world, except she’s not; she’s her own kind of beast that goes by her own rules/ways of doing things, and if you don’t like it, then piss off and find somebody else that can do it nearly as good as her. The problem was, nobody could and that’s why Stritch is truly a talent to be missed.

Now, I do realize that this whole “review”, has turned into being more of a “tribute” to the late, great actress that was Elaine Stritch, but it’s just what can happen when you see a movie about somebody at the end of their road (though not really), and how they continue to live on a day-to-day basis, doing what it is that they want, how they want it, where they want it, and however they want it. And Elaine Stritch do exactly this, is interesting; she’s the type of old lady (although she prefers to use the term “older) that can be cranky and get on people’s case about something meaningful to her, but she isn’t the kind of old lady that’s lost her edge, nor her smarts about the business or how to approach she things. She still sang, performed and sure as hell acted until she called it “quits”, and even then, she couldn’t fully sit down and stay down. She had to get back up, find some work to do and shows the world she’s still got it and never going to throw in the towel.

Watch out before you call her "grand-mom".

Not the one you want to call “grand-ma”.

Of course though, as is the case with life, it all caught up with her, which gets highlighted in this movie very much. Stritch’s many problems with diabetes and alcoholism is explored many of times, showing us that Stritch had many demons deep down inside of her, most of which, she wasn’t willing to let be shared in this movie, until push eventually came to shove. However, the movie doesn’t use this as a way to show us its subject, and make her seem more sympathetic; she doesn’t ask for our sadness, nor do we really want to give it to her. We want her to feel better about life in any way that she can, and because Stritch wants that just as much as we do, it’s pleasing to watch her whenever she’s performing in front of a crowd, regardless of the size of it, or whether or not said performance is to be her last.

Either way, for Elaine Stritch, swan song, or no swan song, the gal continued to go on and didn’t want to sit still. That’s not only a testament to the kind of performer she truly was, but to the old era of Broadway stars that did everything and lived like stars. They were all so very talented, but Stritch in particular was the kind of star that made you wonder: Does age really matter? Because, just as long as you’re able to keep some of your sanity, as well as still being able to be inspired by the thrill of working and performing, then no, it doesn’t. Just live like Elaine Stritch:

Continue to perform and do things, the way you want to do things. Because as long as you give it your all, then everybody’s happy. Most especially yourself.

Consensus: While it certainly takes on a new life, post-death, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is the kind of documentary that not only praises its subject for all the work she’s done throughout her storied-career, but also has us see what it was that really made her the way she was, both in front of, as well as behind, the camera/stage.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

You go, Elaine!

You go, Elaine!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Life Itself (2014)

Yup. Two Thumbs Up.

For some people, Roger Ebert was just a guy who watched an awful lot of movies, and said whether or not he liked them by going “thumbs up”, or “thumbs down”. But to others, he was more than just a film critic; he was a man who genuinely loved what it was that he did and found anyway he could to make it better. Whether it was by posting a positive review on a movie that barely anyone had ever heard about, or by just speaking his mind and not backing down from when others went against him, Roger Ebert had opinions and thoughts, and he wasn’t going to back off from speaking his mind and letting the world know about what he thought. Of course though, as with most humans, Roger ran into some problems with his excessive drinking, but soon found happiness in the form of one woman named Chaz, who he falls in love with and gets married too. Right from there on, Roger realizes that there’s more to life than just movies; sometimes, you have to care for others and continue on the legacy of good-tidings. Of course though, he never forgot about the movies. Not even until the day he tragically passed away at the age of 70.

I feel like if you’ve lived long enough, or have at least paid enough attention to movies as a whole, you know a thing or two about Roger Ebert and the type of influence he has on most people who watch movies. And I’m not just talking about the critiques who just about everybody despises, I’m talking about a natural, everyday film-goer. For awhile too, Roger was the premier film critic that everybody paid attention, and actually listened to, regardless of if they fully agreed with his end rating of a movie or not.

And seeing as how I was a big fan of Roger Ebert, his reviews, At the Movies (even throughout its numerous incarnations that didn’t involve Roger himself), and film criticism as a whole, I knew that this was really going to pull at my heart. After all, without Roger Ebert, there probably would have never been a DTMMR to begin with, and thus, there wouldn’t have been an excuse behind all my countless hours of sitting in front of keyboards and screens.

What the hell is that "thing" he's holding in his hand?!?!

What the hell is that “thing” he’s holding in his hand?!?!

But like I said before about this movie, it’s meant to be made for anybody who was ever touched by Roger and what it was that he did and that’s why most of this flick works. Director Steve James knows that most of us connect Roger to At the Movies, with George Siskel of course, which is primarily why he focuses so much time on that aspect of his life. We see how him and Siskel sometimes got along and sometimes didn’t, both on and off the screen. They didn’t hate each other, yet they didn’t love each other either; they were just two guys who loved the absolute hell out of movies, and were never willing to settle for the other’s opinion.

In all honesty, it’s probably the most interesting part of this documentary; in fact, dare I say it, we could have probably had a whole documentary about their beginnings together and how they, with time, eventually got to like one another and be somewhat considered “pals”. There’s true, honest and real human drama in the stories we are told by those closest to the both of them and whenever James puts his focus on them and lets that story play-out, it’s easily what makes this documentary so interesting to watch and listen to. Even if it is apparent that it’s more about their relationship, and less about Roger and his life, it still glues you in to what you hear next, and by whom.

With that said though, it isn’t like every territory James explores that has to do with Roger and his own personal life isn’t interesting at all, it just sort of pales in comparison. However, there’s still plenty of interesting detours James takes with this documentary and with Ebert’s life that makes things more compelling. For instance, James highlights the fact that Ebert was something of a hero to those that made the movies he reviewed. He was more than just a dude who sat in front of a screen, watched something, and then dissected it moments later; he’s like as I’d like to imagine every other film critic, professional or nonprofessional – a man who truly loves his craft and the business in which he works around. And because of that, he would constantly champion certain movies by certain directors, and give those movies more exposure than they could have ever expected before in their lives.

Because, if there was anybody a common, everyday citizen was going to listen to when it came to “what’s good?”, and “what’s not?”, it sure as hell was Roger Ebert. And sure as hell not some 20-something blogger….

But what really hits us hard is when we see these certain stories told to us by the likes of Ramin Bahrani, Ava DuVernay, and even Errol Morris, who show that if it wasn’t for Roger, they would practically have no film career to begin with; Bahrani himself even goes so far as to befriend Ebert and his whole family! This all truly shows you not only the importance of film criticism in general, but what it really does matter for when somebody sees your movie and talks about it. It doesn’t matter if it totally blows, or is the next best thing since Citizen Kane - it’s a film that, for the most part, is worth seeing. It could touch somebody’s life, while not do anything for another. You never know, and that’s why the art of film deserves to exist in a world such as this.

The man truly is a legend. Not once batting an eye while a Marilyn stand-up glares at him right in the face.

Not once batting an eye away from his work while a Marilyn stand-up glares at him in the face. The man truly was a legend.

Like I was saying though, James doesn’t always hit the mark when he’s exploring Ebert’s life and totally forgets to go even deeper into certain parts that I would have liked a little bit more clarification on (most definitely his later-years when he was diagnosed and before he passed away), but it’s the disease itself that James really goes on and on about, in a respectable, but bold manner. He doesn’t shy away from showing us the harsh living conditions Roger, Chaz, and the rest of his family has to live through in order to keep him alive, and he sure as hell doesn’t shy away from showing us just how hard it is for all of them to have to go on with it, day after day, but it’s the reality of the situation as presented to us. I’m sure there were many people out there who had no freakin’ clue at all about how truly painful or serious this illness was and for that, I’d definitely like to commend James. Not only does he highlight those last few months/years for Roger that may have not been the best of his life, but it shows us that he hardly ever gave up on doing what he loved most: Watching and reviewing movies.

For, if it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be hardly near as many film critics out there as we have today. And, for better, as well as for worse, we have that to thank him for.

Or better yet, give him a solid thumbs up.

Thank you, Roger.

Consensus: While not a perfect documentary, Life Itself still gives us a glimpse into the life of Roger Ebert who made a career out of speaking his mind, loving what it was that he did and always, I repeat, always making sure that the business in which he worked in continued to get better and better, even after he was long gone. And I think it’s safe to say that, on his part, mission complete.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Only takes one weirdo sitting in the last-row to ruin the whole movie-going experience.

Only takes one weirdo sitting in the last-row to ruin the whole movie-going experience.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)

Write this down men: Twenty-something blondes who play the trumpet are bad news.

Recent college-grad Hannah (Greta Gerwig) is working as an intern at a production company and realizes that she needs to make a big change in her life if she wants to be happy at all. Therefore, she decides to break-up with her boyfriend Mike (Mark Duplass) and set her sights possibly on other men; even if those other men just so happen to be her co-workers, Matt (Kent Osborne) and Paul (Andrew Bujalski). Hannah begins one with the later, while the former sort of just sits around, does his work like he’s supposed to be doing and basically be all upset that he’s being left out of the mix. But Hannah’s the type of girl who can’t seem to stick to one thing, regardless of if her life depends on it or not, so you can never tell exactly what she’s going to do next, or with whom either.

It’s a short premise, but at an-hour-and-23-minutes, it’s a short movie, and there’s something inherently charming about all of that. See, writer/director Joe Swanberg likes these small, intimate and rather raw stories about people just living their lives, on a day-to-day basis without all of the schmaltzy, over-dramatic bullshit that we usually see in much-larger, more mainstream movies. Does he do this to save some money and actually be able to make his movies? Sure, you could definitely make that argument. However, there’s something nice and refreshing about a writer/director who likes to create real stories, about real people, doing, well, real things.

Even if one of those “real things” does consist of constantly being shacked-up with whomever is around you.

Oh, Gret.

Oh, Gret.

And yes, that is exactly what Hannah does here. To be honest, the hardest aspect to like about this movie is Hannah herself; she’s self-involved, yet, not overbearingly so. She clearly has a nice conscience and wants to do the right thing for herself and those around her, but when it comes right down to it most of the time, she takes matters into her own hands and doesn’t always fully think things through. Does that make her flawed? Of course it does! But does it also make her somewhat human? Oh, totally!

So with that said, it may be hard to at least accept Hannah as a person you want to watch a movie about, but this isn’t necessarily a movie that’s trying to test your patience. It’s trying to give you a story of a young, sometimes brash and difficult lady that doesn’t know what she wants with life, except just to be happy and feel like she’s working for, or towards, something. Hannah herself doesn’t want to be left behind by the wind and forgotten about – she wants to be remembered, loved, and most of all, happy. Though her ways of making sure that happens are a bit questionable, it’s still interesting to watch because there’s a feeling that this is a real woman we’re watching on screen, and not just figment of a dude’s imagination.

And if she was, she’d be a pretty depressing one, considering that there’s a lot of heartbreak and sadness here, all as a result of her own doing, mind you.

Also, another reason why Hannah is so enthralling to watch is because Greta Gerwig’s an on-screen presence worth paying attention to every second her lovely face is on screen. Which, in the case of this movie, is the whole, damn time. So, if you’re annoyed of Greta Gerwig’s bubbly, warm mug, then this is definitely not something you should bother with. Especially since Swanberg seems to really love focusing in on that mug and watching as each and every emotion she feels, is spelled out on her face. In a way, it can sometimes be annoying by how much zooming-in Swanberg does on not just Gerwig, but on everything else, but I felt like it was something you have to sort of expect with a mumblecore movie, and it’s easy to accept after awhile. Is it uncomfortable to sit around and watch sometimes? Yes, but it’s something that’s easy to get used to once the story actually gets going.

Gerwig does something quite exceptional here in how she’s able to make us see Hannah as a female, rather than a contrivance that Swanberg would have created. She’s more than just a gal who likes to kiss boys and try them out as if they were a new pair of shoes; she’s trying to work towards something. Of course Gerwig’s a lovely presence, but it’s in these spare, raw moments of emotional truth where you really get a sense for who she is, and you sort of feel sympathy for her. Even if she is making a lot of problems for herself, rather than solving them, but that’s who she is. She’s a complicated, confused gal and Gerwig’s great at displaying both sides of Hannah’s personality.

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

That’s not to say that the whole movie just ends up being Gerwig’s show from beginning to end – in fact, quite the opposite. Because this is a story about Hannah and the sorts of men she interacts with in this short time-span in her life, we get to view a different side to her, all depending on the guy she’s gunning for at the point in time. Though he’s displayed quite apparently on the poster, Mark Duplass isn’t in this film as much as you’d like to think and it’s a bit of a shame. The dude’s always a charming presence in anything he shows up in and here, he’s no different. But because the story needs him to be kaput early on, it’s only necessary that we get a small dosage of his charm, and get a chance to see it head-to-head with these two other dudes, Matt and Paul.

Both are pretty charming dudes, but in a nerdy kind of way. But they’re not totally nerdy in that they can’t ever hold a conversation with any normal human being; they’re just sort of the type of guys who have their own set of interests, in their own little circles. Bujalski and Osborne both display enough likability and realism to make it easy to see why they’d be both perfect, and not-so perfect for Hannah’s wants, needs and desires, and it makes you wonder who she’s going to end up with in the end.

Which, like it is in life, is incredibly unpredictable.

Consensus: The constraints in budget and scope may make Hannah Takes the Stairs feel a bit claustrophobic, but for those who can get past that, will realize it’s a heartfelt, emotional and sometimes funny drama about a gal just being herself, while trying to figure out who it is she wants as a mate in her life.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Me. Everyday of my life.

Me. Everyday of my life.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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